VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis responded to critics of reform in his Christmas speech given to the Roman Curia Thurday in Rome, laying out a 12-point program for reform. It's the third year in a row he's used the occasion to address problems in curial bureacracy.
In 2014, he set forth 15 "spiritual ailments" afflicting the Curia. In 2015, he proffered a "category of virtues" he expected the Curia to manifest. This year, he's offering 12 guidelines for members to follow, which include, among other things, synodality, subsidiarity, organization and gradualism.
He also took the occasion to address critics of reform, separating them into three categories.
"There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue," he began, "and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform, on the part of those who say they are ready for change, but want everything to remain as it is."
"There are also cases of malicious resistance," he continued, "which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep's clothing)."
He explained that this last kind is worst, because it "hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor and the action."
Even so, he said such critics are worth listening to. "[T]he good cases of resistance — and even those not quite so good — are necessary and merit being listened to, welcomed and their expression encouraged."
In his words, Christmas is the feast of "the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician," Pope Francis said. "In this upset lies all the richness of God's own thinking, which overturns our limited human ways of thinking."
The Holy Father made no mention of the dubia submitted by four cardinals requesting that he clarify doctrinal ambiguities in "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation released as a fruit of the two synods on the family. In a recent interview, Cdl. Burke said he and his brother cardinals may consider seeking a formal correction for the Holy Father in the new year, after Epiphany, if the pope remains silent.
"It's an old institute in the Church, the correction of the pope. This has not happened in recent centuries, but there are examples, and it's carried out with the absolute respect for the office of the Successor of St. Peter; in fact, the correction of the pope is actually a way of safeguarding that office and its exercise," Burke told LifeSiteNews.
"When will it take place?" he asked. "Now of course we are in the last days, days of strong grace, before the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, and then we have the Octave of the Solemnity and the celebrations at the beginning of the New Year — the whole mystery of Our Lord's Birth and His Epiphany — so it would probably take place sometime after that."
In an interview with Catholic World Report, he admitted the theoretical possibility that a reigning pontiff could become a formal heretic, thereby ceasing to be legitimate pope, although this has never happened in the history of the Church.
CWR: Some people are saying that the pope could separate himself from communion with the Church. Can the pope legitimately be declared in schism or heresy?
Cardinal Burke: If a Pope would formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic. And so, that could happen.
CWR: That could happen.
Cardinal Burke: Yes.
CWR: That’s a scary thought.
Cardinal Burke: It is a scary thought, and I hope we won't be witnessing that at any time soon.
Canonist Ed Peters offered the same point, stating in a recent blog post that "however remote is the possibility of a pope actually falling into heresy and however difficult it might be to determine whether a pope has so fallen, such a catastrophe, Deus vetet, would result in the loss of papal office."
A 2015 analysis in Crisis Magazine also acknowledges the opinion of historical canonists that if a pope were to fall into formal heresy, he would cease to be a valid pope.
Citing St. Robert Bellarmine, the author writes:
[T]he pope loses his office immediately by committing the sin of formal heresy, because people who commit that sin cease to be members of the Church, and God deposes a pope who is no longer a member of the Church. It's true that the bishops could still get together and make a declaration that God had deposed the pope, but their declaration would not be a judgment in any real sense, only an acknowledgement of what God had already done.
Cardinal Burke clarified, however, that he is not accusing Pope Francis of heresy, merely asking him to clarify points of ambiguity in "Amoris Laetitia."
"I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy," Cdl. Burke insisted. "I have never said that. Neither have I stated that he is close to being in heresy."
When asked whether the Holy Spirit protects the Church from such a danger, he responded, "The Holy Spirit is always watching over, inspiring and strengthening the Church. But the members of the Church and, in a pre-eminent way, the hierarchy must cooperate with the promptings of the Holy Spirit."
"It is one thing for the Holy Spirit to be present with us, but it is another thing for us to be obedient to the Holy Spirit," he added.
The official English translation of the Holy Father's speech can be read here.