Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis
Commentary | Opinion
Two days ago, November 29, a prominent, good, and holy clergyman (who I will not name because this post has been deleted) posted this on Facebook:
“With the Pope’s most recent dismissal of one of his “enemies” (Card Burke, Bishop Strickland, AB Ganswein, et al.) we are left to ponder just how petty this has become. At some point we are forced to conclude that the Pope is behaving like a bitter, vengeful, and intolerant man through his heavy-handed actions. No accompaniment or going to the margins here! It’s “Away with you and off to margins with you.” Meanwhile many dissenters and others hostile to the Catholic Faith are welcomed warmly at the Vatican. Believers everywhere are perplexed and saddened. I am told that even many of the Pope’s allies are growing concerned and fearful. It is all very sad. However, this overreach may actually help by backfiring on the Pope and ensuring that the next conclave will practically be forced to find a man who can be a healer and united rather than the divisive and frankly mean-spirited leader we have now. Oremus. Pro Papa Francisco et pro ecclesia!”
He then deleted the post and posted this on November 30 (again, I am not including the name of the author because it does not matter for my purposes here):
“I posted yesterday on my concern for certain recent actions of the Holy Father. In so doing I have come to understand that this statement may have been a cause for further disunity in the Church and may have incited anger and discord for the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I want to be clear that I remain a loyal son of the Church and acknowledge Pope Francis' authority to act in the matters of which I spoke. I regret the post and any bad consequences and trouble this has caused for God's faithful and my own superiors. Let us pray for the Pope, our bishops, the clergy and all the people of God. In Jesus and Mary…”
I understand the frustration of the initial post. In many ways, I share it. But I can also see where certain phrasings were imprudent or unfortunately worded. That being said, the second post is clearly coming from the cleric’s superiors’ direction. It does make me wonder what is appropriate or not appropriate to post for a priest. I am becoming increasingly convinced that priests and bishops should probably not be on social media; and, if they are, then a lay person ought to be in charge of the account. In an already divisive environment, it is important to realize that social media is not a real, organic replacement for a true public square. It is also a place where Catholics, non-Catholics, returning Catholics, lukewarm Catholics, and dissident Catholics all “gather.” So, taking a measured approach is all the more important.
Why, then, did this normally very balanced and careful priest post something so pointed? I bring it up because I think it shows where many are at in the Church. There are many faithful, reasonable Catholics who are perturbed by what they are seeing in international news.
I have already written about the Bishop Strickland situation:
but the more recent news about Cardinal Burke has really upset me. The news media is always chasing good drama and they have painted Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis as “enemies.” They are not.
The Facebook post mentions AB Ganswein. He wrote a “tell-all” book that went after Pope Francis personally and directly. The post mentions Bishop Strickland. He said that Pope Francis has an agenda of undermining the Deposit of Faith.
What has Cardinal Burke done to raise the ire of the Pope? And what is being done to him?
Cardinal Burke is one of the four writers of the dubia to Pope Francis after the publication of Amoris Laetitia. There is no issue with asking for theological clarifications, and, to date, they have not received a response (it’s been seven years). He has pursued other clarifications and not received them either.
Recently, he wrote the foreword for a book which is critical of the most recent Synod on Synodality, saying that it is dangerous and could lead to grave error. Bishop Barron has recently said that he is in disagreement with the final synodal report. But, is it wrong to urge caution? Does every critique have to be seen as an attack?
Many conservatives in the Church see the writings and speeches of Pope Francis as being aimed at them. They take it personally. Pope Francis and his closest supporters see critiques of their projects and desires as personal attacks. What happened to dialogue?
The current state of the Church is perplexing and saddening. There is so much division. Pope Francis supposedly removed the Rome apartment and stipend of Cardinal Burke - if the comments of Austin Ivereigh can be believed the decision was given to a meeting of dicastery heads “without giving specific explanations.” Ivereigh comments as well saying that Cardinal Burke:
“… has also continued to draw a Vatican salary of around 5-6,000 euros a month while living in a spacious rent-free Vatican apartment of over 400 square meters (close to 5,000 square feet), probably worth a similar amount. It is hard to imagine any other organization allowing this. The injustice of an independently wealthy cardinal living at the expense of the People of God while touring the traditionalist circuit sowing suspicion and doubt about the successor of St. Peter should be obvious to anyone who doesn’t live in a world of their own confection.”
Ivereigh reported that he spoke with Pope Francis on November 27. He said:
“In the course of our conversation, Francis told me he had decided to remove Cardinal Burke’s cardinal privileges — his apartment and salary — because he had been using those privileges against the Church. He told me that while the decision wasn’t a secret, he didn’t intend a public announcement but earlier that day (Monday) it had been leaked.”
Again, this is based on the word of Ivereigh reporting the conversation. But the intimation that the Pope believes that Cardinal Burke is using his apartment and salary “against the Church” seems “bitter, vengeful, and intolerant.” I had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Burke a couple of years ago. He was exceptionally humble and soft-spoken. He is clear when he speaks and chooses his words carefully. He is not regularly taken with exaggeration, but is a faithful son of the Church. Certainly, he is more traditional; I went to a Pontifical Low Mass with him in D.C. before the March for Life in 2020 and his sermon was beautiful. His heart burns for Christ.
Ivereigh and other critics charge Cardinal Burke with working “to create confusion and doubt in the ordinary faithful about the most important process in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.” This is outlandish. Cardinal Burke is responding to the confusion and doubt being exported en masse from the Vatican over the last ten years. We finally received a half-hearted “strongly worded letter” from the Vatican telling the German Bishops to chill out, but they have allowed the Synodal Way in Germany to continue for far too long. Did I mention that the Amoris Laetitia dubia still have not been answered?!? The lack of clarity coming from the government of Holy Mother Church is often stifling.
The Pillar, when reporting this story, said the following:
“The Pillar has also confirmed that Burke has not been informed directly of the decision.
Burke, I suspect, will take it rather quietly.
The cardinal is an outspoken critic of Pope Francis, and has generated a fair amount of controversy for his approach.
But while he speaks out vociferously on ecclesiastical issues as he sees them, Burke does not have the temperament to speak out on a personal slight — in fact, I’ve been in his company several times in recent years, and I’ve not heard him speak ill of the pope personally, or of his decisions to remove Burke from the leadership positions he once held.
As it happens, I’ve seen Burke grow visibly uncomfortable in the presence of Catholics insulting Francis personally, rather than criticizing the pontiff’s theological approach or leadership style.
He has that kind of personal piety, in my observation, which makes the idea of denigrating the person of the pope very uncomfortable — even while he is absolute — and sometimes strident — in his criticisms of Francis’ approach to some issues.
That seems a distinction which matters to him.”
We at Good Distinctions are all about finding good distinctions. This one is the most important! Cardinal Burke has been an outspoken critic of the Pope’s theological approach and leadership style. But he has never insulted the person of Pope Francis in any way, shape, or form. This distinction is huge. We can judge the actions of others without judging the person!
I think it is telling that this was done to Cardinal Burke and he was not even told!! That is wrong. I am not saying that the Pope cannot do it; he is within his authority. But charity and the Law of the Gospel dictates that we speak with people directly and deal with them in truth and love.
We need to pray for Pope Francis, pray for his critics, pray for his ardent supporters, pray for the German bishops, pray for the College of Cardinals, pray for bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay people. We need to pray for Holy Mother Church: for truth, unity, charity, and clarity.
Let us entrust ourselves and the Church to the care of our Blessed Mother:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.