Card. Burke explains what Pope Francis is up to.

In English for L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s “daily”), Raymond Card. Burke writes of The Francis Effect:

American Cardinal on the message of this Pontificate The Pope’s radical call to the new evangelization

During a recent visit to the United States, I was repeatedly impressed by how deeply Pope Francis has penetrated the national conversation on a whole range of issues. His special gift of expressing direct care for each and all has resonated strongly with many in my homeland.

At the same time, I noted a certain questioning about whether Pope Francis has altered or is about to alter the Church’s teaching on a number of the critical moral issues of our time, [I get a lot of this. A stewardess on a flight the other day gave me that song and dance.] for example, the teaching on the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, and the integrity of marriage and the family. Those who questioned me in the matter were surprised to learn that the Holy Father has in fact affirmed the unchanging and unchangeable truths of the Church’s teaching on these very questions. They had developed a quite different impression as a result of the popular presentation [read: mainstream media] of Pope Francis and his views.

Clearly, the words and actions of the Holy Father require, on our part, a fitting tool of interpretation, [read: hermeneutic] if we are to understand correctly what he intends to teach. My friend and colleague at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, put it this way in a recent article in this newspaper: “The Holy Father instructs with his words, but effectively teaches through his actions. This is his uniqueness and his magnetism” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, [ore] 13 December 2013, p. 7). In other words, Pope Francis is exercising strongly his gift for drawing near to all people of good will. It is said that when he manifests his care for a single person, as he does so generously whenever the occasion presents itself, all understand that he has the same care for each of them.

With regard to his manner of addressing the critical issues, the Holy Father himself has described his approach, when he stated: “We cannot insist only [get that?] on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods…. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time” (“The Pope’s Interview”, [TBI™] ore, 25 September 2013, p. 14). In other words, the Holy Father wants, first, to convey his love of all people so that his teaching on the critical moral questions may be received in that context. [When Francis uttered the infamous “Who am I to judge?”, it was in a context.  HERE] But his approach cannot change the duty of the Church and her shepherds to teach clearly and insistently about the most fundamental moral questions of our time. I think, for instance, of the Holy Father’s words to the participants in the second annual March for Life in Rome on 12 May of last year, or of his Twitter message to the participants in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on 22 January.


In a similar way, Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, [get that?] as well as the practical importance of the Church’s canonical discipline in seeking the truth regarding the claim of the nullity of a marriage. I think in particular of his words to the Plenary Assembly of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura: “It is always necessary to keep in mind the effective connection between the action of the Church which evangelizes and the action of the Church which administers justice. The service of justice is an undertaking of the apostolic life…. I encourage all of you to persevere in the pursuit of a clear and upright exercise of justice in the Church, in response to the legitimate desires that the faithful address to their Pastors, especially when they trustingly request that their own status be authoritatively clarified” (ore, 15 November 2013, p. 8).

[So, Your Eminence, what is Francis doing?] Pope Francis has clearly reaffirmed the Church’s moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition. What, then, does he want us to understand about his pastoral approach in general? It seems to me that he first wishes to have people set aside every obstacle which they imagine to prevent them from responding with faith. He wants, above all, that they see Christ and receive His personal invitation to be one with Him in the Church.

The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness. We all know individuals who say things like: “Oh, I stopped going to Church because of the Church’s teaching on divorce”, or “I could never be Catholic because of the Church’s teaching on abortion or on homosexuality”. The Holy Father is asking them to put aside these obstacles and to welcome Christ, without any excuse, into their lives. Once they come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ, alive for us in the Church, they will be able to resolve whatever has been troubling them about the Church, His Mystical Body, and her teaching.


Read the rest of Card. Burke’s explanation over there.

Fr. Z kudos to Card Burke, who has also engaged in talking people down of the ledge.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. jlong says:

    Excellent piece by Cardinal Burke. I hope and pray Pope Francis allows him to carry on his work in the Curia. He is only one of two who has not been given the nod by pope francis to stay in his current position. He is still a young, and I hope for such a man to become the future Pope maybe taking the name Athanasius.

    Many have accused him of leading a campaign against Pope Francis, but this is smeared in the lies and backstabbing found within the Vatican. He is a loyal servant of the Church.

    I also welcomed the exciting news that Cardinal Pell is going to run a department. Some reports said his role would be equal to the secretary of the state.

  2. Legisperitus says:

    Good explanation. I can relate to this.

    To the treatment of the FFI, not so much, though that whole story is not yet written.

  3. greenlight says:

    I have wondered the following: 1) Given that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Cardinal Burke (or someone like him) might’ve been elected Pope instead of Francis, what would his Pontificate have been like? How would he have been received, within the existing Vatican machinery, and the world press, and the general population? (Here in St. Louis he remains a deeply polarizing figure and I would say that more people (and probably even more Catholics) have an unfavorable view of him. (Not me, BTW))

    And 2) What if Cardinal Burke (or someone like him) is elected Pope next time? How would his Pontificate be different following Francis as opposed to following Benedict? How would he be received, etc.? My hunch is that he would be cast as an even more polarizing figure and would really have his work cut out for him.

  4. Unwilling says:

    I like what Card. Burke says here regarding Jesus Christ and His Church.
    Card Burke usually says things that have the ring of Truth with authority.

    But when he says “the words and actions of the Holy Father require, on our part, a fitting tool of interpretation”, I am uncomfortable. It is for the Pope to interpret the Gospel to us. We need an interpretation of his interpretation? “If the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” [You might be over-analyzing.]

  5. Bosco says:

    I admire and respect Cardinal Burke very much. His adherence to and representations of the doctrine of the Church are above reproach. I therefore am bound to give considerable weight to his personal interpretation of what Pope Francis ‘seems’ to convey and ‘seems’ to have meant to convey to the world at large and the Faithful heretofore:
    “The Holy Father, it seems to me, …” (see above)
    I note Cardinal Burke does not venture (graciously and thankfully) a personal opinion as to the prudence and wisdom of the Holy Father’s supposed (by Cardinal Burke) pastoral approach.
    I am as in the dark as most in regard to what Pope Francis has in mind but I suspect papal reaffirmations of traditional Catholic teaching are only likely to strike a chord with those who are grounded in such teaching, few. For most of the world (the Catholic world included) traditional Catholic teaching is a blank canvass.
    “Pope Francis has clearly reaffirmed the Church’s moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition.”, says Cardinal Burke but in my opinion merely saying “Ditto” to past moral teaching is not ‘teaching’ per se.
    I wonder as I wonder how many martyrs there have been in the 2000 year history of the Church whose lives might have been spared if they had been more tolerant of and pastoral in their evangelization of the pagans?
    Let’s start with St. Stephen then St. Paul then Peter…

  6. Unwilling says:

    greenlight, I like what you say. I have two comments:
    1. (not that I wish he were, but) Pope Burke need not be as polarizing as (if true) Card Burke.
    2. There is an evil in opposing polarization, but there is also an evil in confusing inconsistency.

  7. McCall1981 says:

    So when Card Burke says:
    “In a similar way, Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the indissolubility of marriage…”
    is this him weighing in on communion for the divorced/remarried? Is he saying Francis isn’t going to change the traditional teaching?

  8. Priam1184 says:

    Pope Francis: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods…. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that.”

    Cardinal Burke: “…cannot change the duty of the Church and HER SHEPHERDS (emphasis mine) to teach clearly and insistently about the most fundamental moral questions of our time.”

    I for one think that I finally understand what Francis is doing and really don’t have any problem with how he is doing it. HOWEVER I think that those who do have problems with Francis’ tone of voice (so to speak) would have far fewer problems if the bishops, who are the shepherds of the Church after all, would actually do their job every now and then and “teach clearly and insistently about the most fundamental moral questions of our time.” The bishops, in the United States and Europe at least, do not do this (with the rare exception that proves the rule) and are too often seen conspiring with the very forces in our culture and society who are undermining the Church’s Teaching on these questions. That is why faithful Catholics who are completely deprived of local support and authority look pleadingly to the Holy Father for guidance and reassurance. A dangerous situation because when Francis has a hiccup, a bad day, or just says something the wrong way (we all do it), then the whole world gets thrown into a tizzy.

  9. mamajen says:

    Goodness knows that Pope Francis is regularly taken out of context, but I don’t think that it’s his words that are the problem so much as the fact that Church teaching has been mischaracterized for so long (and not only by the left!). Many people wouldn’t recognize orthodoxy when they hear it, because they don’t know what the Church teaches to begin with.

  10. Christophe says:

    I think the fact that the good Cardinal Burke believes he needs to assure everyone that the Bishop of Rome has not changed Church teaching speaks for itself.

  11. Joseph-Mary says:

    Gob bless Cardinal Burke. I trust him.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The point is that the media is not “a fitting tool of interpretation.” And of course, somebody (St. Augustine?) once said that you have to believe in order to understand, not the other way around, so that people cutting themselves off from believing have no way of understanding why the Church is right about her hot-button teachings.

  13. Unwilling says:

    Suburbanbanshee, it was Anslem. But credo ut intelligam is a clever paradoxical statement. The normal order is “the other way around”, as understanding leads to belief. Matt 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see”.

  14. mysticalrose says:

    “The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness.”

    This seems like a good and reasonable summary of the New Evangelization. But I am at times tired of the “hand holding” in adult catechetical/evangelization that seems emblematic of our Holy Father’s approach. Like it or not, many (most?) adults in the Western world simply do not desire to belong to a religion that puts any constraints on their moral behavior, particularly in terms of the 6th and 9th commandments. Hence, the turn to New Age and (pseudo) Eastern philosophies. I don’t mean to imply that the Church shouldn’t try to ameliorate obstacles, but catering to those who believe religion to be about personal choice seems to me to be counter productive. Maybe a clear statement of doctrine would be useful in paring back obstacles?

  15. mysticalrose says:


    Good point about the Crede ut intelligam.

  16. St Donatus says:

    Yes, I think all of this is a fence very difficult to walk. If the vast majority of Catholics get their knowledge about Catholic teaching from the media, they will believe that fornication and divorce are just life choices and God is okay with that. Thus these Catholic join in the wide path to destruction. I know that Jesus said that the shepherd will leave the 99 sheep to find the 1 lost sheep, but I can’t believe that those sheep are left to be killed by the wolves all for the sake of that one lost sheep. When we do as most protestant denominations have done and lead the 99 sheep to believe that the wolves are not dangerous, they will become just more lost sheep. Otherwise is teaching that there is no sin, devil or hell, all we do is point them in the direction of that wolf, Satan.

    As another comment above stated, the Pope is the figurehead that can draw these people to the Church, then we, lay people, priests, and bishops must teach them how to stay away from that wolf, Satan, that will eat the sheep alive.

  17. SuburbanBanshee,

    Unwilling is quite correct, the quotation is from St. Anselm of Canterbury.
    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  18. Iacobus M says:

    I concur with the comments above to the effect that the problem has been not so much what Pope Francis is saying, but rather that most people receive his comments through the medium of the popular press. I would add that the “Spirit of Vatican II” crowd is ready to pry any slightly favorable papal remark out of context and run with it.
    Also, I love the idea of Pope Burke, but the conventional wisdom is that the cardinals will “never” elect an American pope, due to the U.S.’s outsize influence in the world. Of course, the conventional wisdom is often wrong . . .
    -Iacobus M

  19. JonPatrick says:

    Concerning the statement that Cardinal Burke is a “polarizing” figure. There is too much obsession these days with making sure we don’t offend anyone. Unfortunately the world has moved so far from the truth that any statement of the truth will be polarizing because it will be so radically different from the conventional wisdom.

    Many of the saints (St. Paul for example) were very outspoken in their statements and it cost them their lives. Not a bad example to follow.

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