ROME – In a new interview, American Cardinal Raymond Burke has described impressions of a conflict between him and Pope Francis as a “caricature” and depictions of the pontiff as a liberal revolutionary “fundamentally dishonest,” but at the same time insisted that “universally there’s a great deal of confusion” today, with many Catholics wanting “a much stronger presentation of the Church’s doctrine.”
Burke spoke in a conversation with Australian Catholic journalist Jordan Grantham, which was published by Catholic Outlook, the news agency of the Diocese of Parramatta in Australia.
Burke is one of four cardinals, two of whom have since died, who presented a set of questions, technically known as dubia, to Pope Francis about his document on the family Amoris Laetitia, and specifically, its cautious opening to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. In general, the tenor of the dubia suggested the four cardinals found the opening to Communion an unacceptable break with Catholic tradition.
To date, Francis has not responded directly to the dubia, although allies and collaborators of the pope insist that he did so de facto with a letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires in Argentina last September, affirming their conclusion that Amoris does mean that Communion for the divorced and remarried is possible in some cases.
In many media presentations, the 69-year-old Burke has been styled as a traditionalist critic of a progressive pope, but he rejected both images.
“I think one thing that they misunderstand is that he’s the agent of some revolution in the Church, but the successor of St Peter has nothing to do with revolutions,” he said.
“They depict Pope Francis as a wonderful, open person and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they depict me as just the opposite,” he said. He accused the media of wanting to present the pope in ways favorable to “their own agenda.”
“The pope is actually not in favor of their agenda,” he said. “They use this kind of technique to make it seem like he is, and that’s fundamentally dishonest.”
As for himself, Burke insisted that “I am very pastoral,” and that he’s not “a person who’s out of touch with the times and living in the Middle Ages.”
At one point, Burke was asked about comments by Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the coordinator of the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisors, strongly critical of the dubia and asserting that “ordinary people are with the pope,” meaning, in part, that they support the reading of Amoris outlined by the Argentine bishops and affirmed by Francis.
“I think what Cardinal Maradiaga says doesn’t match my experience,” Burke said.
“I find universally that there’s a great deal of confusion, also people feeling that the Church is not a secure point of reference,” he said. “Some are feeling even a certain bewilderment . . . they are looking for a much stronger presentation of the Church’s doctrine.”
Burke said the confusion engendered by Amoris is “demonstrable.”
“It’s a fact that we have conferences of bishops which are contradicting one another with regard to Amoris Laetitia; bishops contradicting one another; we have lay faithful who argue with one another over this; and so many priests are suffering in particular, because the faithful come to them, expecting certain things that are not possible because they’ve received one of the these erroneous interpretations of Amoris Laetitia,” he said.
“As a result, they don’t understand the Church’s teaching anymore,” Burke said.
Burke, the former bishop of both Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, and also the former head of the Vatican’s supreme canonical court, said he’s tired of personal attacks generated by the Amoris debate.
“The thing that I find rather consistently is that so-called liberal people, the people who call for revolution in the Church and so forth, are liberal and want dialogue as long as you agree with them,” he said. “The minute you raise a question, they become very dismissive, make personal attacks, what we call ad hominem arguments, and so forth. That really isn’t helpful.”
Burke said he wants people to engage his positions, not his personality.
“My point is this: ‘What is it that I’ve said that isn’t true?’ And I’ll address it. If you simply accuse me of being ‘out of tune’, ‘out of touch’, or whatever, ‘medieval’, or deluded, there’s no response to that,” he said.
Burke also serves patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and was at the center of a recent papally-order overhaul of the group after one of its officials was forced out because of a controversy surrounding a charitable program that allegedly was involved in the distribution of condoms. In the end, after the pope’s intervention, the group’s leader, Fra’ Matthew Festing, was ousted.
Asked if Festing could have pursued an appeal of that ouster under Church law, Burke said it was a possibility.
“He could, in the sense that it was most extraordinary to demand from him, without announcing it to him beforehand, his resignation ‘on the spot’, as they say,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t seem that he intends to do that.”
Burke said he didn’t have any insight on why Pope Francis declined to reappoint German Cardinal Gerhard Müller as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but he praised Müller as someone who, “because of his exceptional preparation and long experience as a professor of theology … was particularly well suited to head the congregation.”
Finally, Burke said that although he deeply regrets the deaths of two of the dubia cardinals, their absence is not what makes getting Pope Francis to answer them urgent.
“The urgency of a response to the dubia derives from the harm done to souls by the confusion and error which result, as long as the fundamental questions raised are not answered in accord with the constant teaching and practice of the Church,” he said.
“The urgency,” Burke said, “weighs very heavily on my heart.