What in the world is Cardinal Burke doing? What can he and his compatriots be thinking? The cardinal and several other clerics have published a Declaration of Truths which purports to be a clarification of Catholic beliefs that the signatories hold to be under attack by theologians and clerics within the Church, including the Pope himself. Please check out the story and the actual document here: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/new-declaration-of-truths-affirms-key-church-teachings. I’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting Cardinal Burke several times. He is a good and gentle man. However, in the past few years, he has developed such an antipathy towards the Pope that his own words begin to take on the echo of a parallel magisterium. He is by far the most recognizable signatory of this document, but his willing acolyte is the peripatetic Bishop Schneider, the auxiliary bishop of Kazakhstan, who is almost always traveling around the world championing his view of orthodoxy rather than residing in the diocese he serves. Other signers include two more Kazakh bishops and a retired Lavian cardinal. Not the most heavyweight group that could have been assembled. In fact, three Kazakh bishops almost equal the number of Catholics in that country, now a Muslim state for the past seven hundred years since the Mongols destroyed the medieval Nestorian Christian Church.
‘Clarifying’ Catholic Teaching Or A Parallel Magisterium?
In essence, the group’s message is a restatement of Catholic dogmas, doctrines and laws that are under question by some in the Church. The signatories place their particular spin on what those teachings actually say. Cardinal Burke and companions want to make sure that Catholics understand what should be believed and what should be rejected as inappropriate explanations or simply errors in Catholic belief. They are concerned that the Church is spiritually ill and in the midst of “almost universal doctrinal confusion and disorientation.”
Here’s the problem with what they’ve done. A bishop must ensure orthodox, i.e. correct belief, in his diocese. Only two of the signatories actually have a diocese to govern. But no bishop or cardinal has the power to correct or mandate what the worldwide Catholic Church should believe. Nor does anyone other than the Pope, or the the universal body of Bishops in union with the Pope, have the authority to define that belief. Cardinal Burke and companions would no doubt agree with this, but the document leaves the impression of what I called above a parallel magisterium. That would be a separate system of truths that these clerics believe better explains Catholic dogma and doctrine. They worry that the current situation confuses the laity, but they are printing a document that Catholics could easily believe supplants, clarifies, or improves upon the Cathechism of the Catholic Church and papal teaching. Well you know something? No one but the pope gets to do that. Cardinal Burke knows better and so do the other signatories.
Controversial Public Opposition To The PopeI do not mind them being upset with the Pope or disagreeing with him. But Cardinal Burke, especially, has a wide following among conservative Catholics, many of whom hang on his words as if they were the Gospel itself. He knows that he is the vocal opposition to the Pope, and it is unfortunate that he is exploiting that fact to sow dissension. Fight these battles within the Roman Curia or within the body of bishops, but don’t scandalize the faithful with criticisms that undermine the authority of Pope Francis. It’s unfair to the people, especially when the document makes no clear distinctions between absolute dogma, doctrine or church law. It just lists issues as if every one is as important or necessary as the other. For instance, celibacy is a church law and can be changed without harming the essential nature of the Catholic faith. The belief that Jesus is both fully God and fully human is absolutely essential to the existence of the Church. But one would never know that from the document itself.
No Clarity, Just A New Kind Of Relativism
This document is scandalous to the laity and disrespectful to the person of the Pope. Pope Francis deserves better from those who claim to serve him. If they are really convinced he is wrong and has created a climate of confusion, there are ways to address that issue that don’t involve a public hissy fit–which is exactly what this Declaration of Truths is. These disgruntled clerics may think they are doing a public service, but they are manipulating the media and the faithful to propound their own versions of the truth. In the secular world, everybody gets to decide what the truth is for himself or herself. That’s how much relativism has taken hold of the public sphere. You have your truth and I have mine. Cardinal Burke has decided to ride the apocalyptic horse of relativism in a race with the Pope to win the hearts and minds of believers. In the Preakness race a few weeks ago, a horse threw its jockey and ran the race alone, crossing the finish line riderless. Cardinal Burke may find himself in the same position as that jockey, left in the dust as his horse–his view of the truth–goes riderless into the public sphere, causing more of the confusion and spiritual sickness he claims to abhor.