Cdl. Burke: Priests ‘Must Refuse and Face the Consequences’

News: Investigations
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 17, 2016   

His Eminence addresses "Amoris Laetitia" and rejects the notion of offering Holy Communion to adulterers

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ROME ( - Cardinal Raymond Burke clarifies that neither "Amoris Laetitia" nor a superior's command gives priests the right to extend Holy Communion to those living in sin.

Last week the chaplain to the Knights of Malta was asked some tough questions by the Austrian philosopher Prof. Thomas Stark concerning the post-synodal exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" (AL).

Stark presented to Cdl. Burke the real possibility that AL will be used by some bishops to pressure priests into giving Holy Communion to public adulterers. His Eminence responded, that it was a "grave injustice" to ask priests to do such things which in conscience they couldn't do. Burke added, "If someone tells the priest that he has to do these things, he simply must refuse and face the consequences."

Although the cardinal admits the document itself is prone to various interpretations not in accord with magisterial teaching or practice, he also blames the media. "The mass media ... are using the text to say the Catholic Church has undergone a revolution; She's abandoned what She's always taught and practiced." Cdl. Burke warned that if the faithful are being informed only by the media, "instead of studying their catechism," then they'd be woefully misled.

Professor Stark pointed out that the opposing interpretations of AL give the impression that there were seemingly "two sorts of the Church," one based on Scripture and Tradition and the other that ignores the same. Burke explained that a mundane, worldly and political way of thinking has entered the Church, dividing it into various camps.

He also noted that people of weak faith also view the Church as being hypocritical for not following Her own teaching in practice. As examples of this the cardinal commented:

It says for instance that marriage is indissoluble, but now it has a marriage nullity process by which practically anyone who comes forward and asks to have their marriage declared null, it will be declared null. Or the Church says that the Holy Eucharist is the Body of Christ and one has to be properly disposed, but at the same time She freely gives Holy Communion to whoever approaches without asking any questions.

Cardinal Burke expressed the need to go back to a supernatural vision of the Church that has no false distinctions between doctrine and discipline, truth and love, or mercy and justice.

As far as clerics being urged to give Holy Communion to those living in adulterous relationships, Cdl. Burke noted that our Lord Himself teaches that divorce and remarriage is adultery, so "how is the priest more merciful than our Lord himself?" he asked. "The priest's mercy is speaking the truth of Christ's word ... so that the person can live according to the truth and find real happiness in his life."

Stark asked Cdl. Burke to explain how "Familiaris Consortio" (FC) can be considered magisterial and AL is not when they are both called apostolic exhortations. His Eminence explained that concerning AL, "The Pope himself makes it clear that the text is his own reflection." He related that AL is written in a completely different way than FC, such as in the type of language it uses and its many first-person references. These indicate that the document contains personal reflections of the Pope, which are not therefore magisterial.

The cardinal was asked to explain the widely reported comment of Vienna’s Cdl. Christoph Schönborn, who claimed AL overcame an "artificial distinction" between "regular" and "irregular" marriages. Cardinal Burke admitted he wasn't able to square Schönborn's statement with Church teaching. He said he knew of people who continued to love their spouse even after they were abandoned by them, and held such people up as an example. "They are faithful to the love which they pledged on the day of their marriage." He added that the grace of marriage always provides the strength needed to live the vows.

Addressing paragraph 305 of the exhortation, Stark asked how one living in objective sin might not be considered subjectively culpable. Cardinal Burke said he "found in that particular section ... a confusion with regard to the Church's teaching on factors which can diminish culpability of an individual sinful act."

The cardinal went on to say that such mitigating circumstances as drug use or external pressure can reduce the culpability of a single act of sin.

But that reasoning doesn't apply to living in public sin, in other words, living in a state of constant sin. One can't say that one can't live chastely. Yes, one can, and that's what we're called to do in such a situation. It's simply a confusion of the moral teaching in that regard.

Asked about the problematic Church in Germany, His Eminence blamed the decline of the Church in the West since Vatican II, such as in Germany and the United States, on "[a]bandonment of the tradition" in catechesis, worship and governance.

He also blames his own generation for not setting a good example, saying they were given all the "teachings and practices" but many "took it for granted and became weak and now we aren't giving the example" we should to the young.

Cardinal Burke sees the solution to the problems in the Church today as residing with the laity learning, loving and living their faith. He encouraged the laity to "[be] firm and be steadfast in studying and growing in your knowledge and your life in Christ. It absolutely will transform the world."


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