Quoting a late Jesuit catechetical writer, American Cardinal Raymond Burke said that Catholicism is facing “the worst crisis in its entire history,” due in part to a “betrayal of truth by those who claim to follow Christ and to be members of the Church,” and has warned faithful Catholics to prepare for “martyrdom.”

Burke made the comments at a “Rome Life Forum” on May 7 sponsored by Voice of the Family, a lay initiative made up of pro-life and pro-family Catholic groups. It played an active role during two Synods of Bishops convened by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015 in defending traditional positions on marriage and family matters.

Among other points, Burke appeared to take aim at a cautious opening by Pope Francis in his document summarizing those synods, Amoris Laetitia, to the idea of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion after a process of discernment.

“It cannot be that the Church professes faith in the indissolubility of marriage … and at the same time admits to the Sacraments those who publicly live in violation of the indissolubility of marriage,” Burke said.

He described such a concession as the product of a “mundane perspective, man-centered and world-centered.”

Burke, 67, a former head of the Vatican’s supreme court and the current patron of the Order of Malta, centered his remarks around the work of the late Father John Hardon, a Jesuit known for his works on catechesis and evangelization.

Burke approvingly quoted from Hardon’s last book, for which the cardinal contributed the preface:

“Catholicism is in the throes of the worst crisis in its entire history,” Hardon wrote. “Unless true and loyal Catholics have the zeal and the spirit of the early Christians, unless they are willing to do what they did and to pay the price that they paid, the days of America are numbered.”

Burke added that the same is true of any nation “subject to the virulent secularization of society, a secularization which has also entered into the Church.”

Burke listed a series of indices of what he said Hardon recognized as growing secularization within the Church.

  • “Faith in the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist” had “dramatically diminished.”
  • “Sunday Mass was no longer seen as a serious obligation.”
  • “Regular access to the Sacrament of Penance was abandoned by a great number of Catholics.”
  • “General confusion and error regarding the moral law … wreaking destruction and death in the lives of many individuals and of many families.”

In response, Burke called faithful Catholics to a “witness of catechesis,” urging them to “make their voices heard” in opposition to “so much confusion about fundamental dogmatic and moral truths.”

He warned, however, that doing so will engender opposition, which, once again following Hardon, he described in terms of three forms of martyrdom: blood, persecution and witness.

“The follower of the truth written by God on every human heart will suffer persecution at the hands of those who prefer the immediate convenience and pleasure of lies, even the grossest of lies,” Burke said.

“The suffering is greatly increased by the betrayal of the truth by those who claim to follow Christ and to be members of his Church, even bishops, priests and consecrated religious,” the cardinal added.

Among other things, Burke appeared to suggest that Catholic institutions in secularized cultures need to be prepared to sacrifice public support in order to remain true to the Church’s teachings.

“I think, for instance, of the threat of the loss of tax exemption, with its disastrous effects on many apostolates of the Church, which may be the necessary result of holding true to our faith and the moral law,” he said.

In general, Burke said Catholics struggling to uphold traditional positions should be prepared for scorn, including from fellow Catholics.

“Such martyrdom is the daily witness offered by every faithful Catholic in a totally secularized society, and in the Church which too suffers secularization,” he said.

“We embrace indifference, ridicule, rejection, and other forms of persecution because we love Our Lord and all our brothers and sisters in Him, in his holy Church,” Burke said.

Voice of the Family has posted the full text of Burke’s address, and also a video of the presentation.