Two prominent and sometimes controversial cardinals, both seen as conservatives, recently have drawn stinging criticism in one case and a stirring defense in another, and both have come from extremely high-ranking sources.
American Cardinal Raymond Burke was recently dismissed as a “disappointed man” upset over the loss of his power by fellow Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, coordinator of Pope Francis’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, head of the Vatican’s liturgy department, was praised by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI as someone with whom the liturgy is in “good hands.”
Maradiaga’s comments on Burke came in a new interview book with his fellow Salesian, Father Antonio Carriero, titled Solo il Vangelo è rivoluzionario (“Only the Gospel is Revolutionary”), published in Italy by Piemme.
Burke, who was removed by Pope Francis in November 2014 as head of the Vatican’s supreme court, is widely seen as the leader of the conservative opposition to the pontiff’s document on the family Amoris Laetita and its cautious opening to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
He was among four cardinals who submitted a set of questions, called dubia, to Francis, seeking to dispel what they described as “grave disorientation and great confusion” created by the document.
In the new interview, Maradiaga comes out swinging.
“That cardinal who sustains this,” Maradiaga said, referring to the criticism of Amoris, “is a disappointed man, in that he wanted power and lost it. He thought he was the maximum authority in the United States.
“He’s not the magisterium,” Maradiaga said, referring to the authority to issue official teaching. “The Holy Father is the magisterium, and he’s the one who teaches the whole Church. This other [person] speaks only his own thoughts, which don’t merit further comment.
“They are the words,” Maradiaga said, “of a poor man.”
Maradiaga also criticized conservative schools of thought in Catholicism, of which Burke is often seen as a symbol.
“These currents of the Catholic right are persons who seek power and not the truth, and the truth is one,” he said. “If they claim to find some ‘heresy’ in the words of Francis, they’re making a big mistake, because they’re thinking only like men and not as the Lord wants.
“What sense does it have to publish writings against the pope, which don’t damage him but ordinary people? What does a right-wing closed on certain points accomplish? Nothing!
“Ordinary people are with the pope, this is completely clear,” Maradiaga said. “I see that everywhere.
“Those who are proud, arrogant, who believe they have a superior intellect … poor people! Pride is also a form of poverty,” he said.
“The greatest problem, however, is the disorientation that’s created among people when they read affirmations of bishops and cardinals against the Holy Father,” he said.
Maradiaga called his fellow cardinals to loyalty.
“I think that one of the qualities we cardinals [should have] is loyalty,” he said. “Even if we don’t all think the same way, we still have to be loyal to Peter.”
Whoever doesn’t offer that loyalty, he said, “is just seeking attention.”
While such public clashes between cardinals are rare, they’re not unprecedented.
During the Benedict years, for instance, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna publicly suggested that Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served as Secretary of State under St. John Paul II, had blocked an investigation of sex abuse charges against Schönborn’s predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer.
In that instance, Benedict called in both cardinals for a fence-mending session, among other things reminding them that “when accusations are made against a cardinal, competency falls exclusively to the pope.”
Maradiaga also appeared to suggest that Burke may have been disappointed in the outcome of the conclave of March 2013 that elected Francis.
“The papal candidates others wanted remained in place, while the one the Lord wanted is the one who was elected,” he said, “so the dissent is logical and understandable, [because] we can’t all think the same way.
“However,” Maradiaga said, “it’s Peter who leads the Church, and therefore, if we have faith, we must respect the choices and the style of the pope who came from the end of the earth.”
This is not the first time Maradiaga has attacked a fellow cardinal seen as being a conservative.
In 2014, he called on the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, to “be a bit more flexible” during an interview with Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger, a German newspaper.
Maradiaga said Müller “see things in black-and-white terms,” adding that “the world isn’t like that, my brother.” Maradiaga also accused the German cardinal of only listening to his group of advisors, not hearing “other voices.”
Sarah, meanwhile, who was appointed by Francis as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in November 2014, has drawn fire in more progressive quarters for his fairly traditional views on the Church’s worship.
In April, for instance, Sarah gave a talk on the 10th anniversary of Benedict’s document Summorum Pontificum, authorizing regular celebration of the older Latin Mass, in which Sarah spoke of a “serious, profound crisis” in the Church caused in part by liturgical changes after the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s.
“Even today, a significant number of Church leaders underestimate the serious crisis that the Church is going through,” Sarah said, including “relativism in doctrinal, moral and disciplinary teaching, grave abuses, the desacralization and trivialization of the Sacred Liturgy, [and] a merely social and horizontal view of the Church’s mission.”
One liberal commentator derided Sarah for nostalgia for a bypassed “golden age.”
Yet in a new afterword to a book by Sarah, Benedict XVI says the liturgy is in “good hands” with the Guinean cardinal, and praises Sarah for his prayer life.
Sarah, Benedict writes, speaks “out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us.
“We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church,” Benedict writes.
The afterword’s last line is, “With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.”
The book is The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, published by Ignatius Press.
Benedict’s vote of confidence is all the more striking given that when he resigned the papacy in February 2013, Benedict vowed to remain “hidden from the world,” and has rarely broken his silence since. The fact that he chose to do so now, many observers believe, reflects both his passion for the liturgy and also his support for Sarah.