Cardinal Burke Can’t “Correct” the Pope, But the Pope Can Correct Burke

Cardinal Burke Can’t “Correct” the Pope, But the Pope Can Correct Burke March 28, 2017

Image via Creative Commons

Image via Creative Commons

Lysergic Acid News is blaring trumpets again about the so-called “correction” of the pope by Cardinal Burke, et al. If Pope Francis won’t answer the dubia, “we simply will have to correct the situation.” Ahem.

Sometimes people will ask me, “Alt! Do you still stand by that article you wrote, you know, the one where you said you changed your mind about Pope Francis? Skojec declared that you had seen the light.”

Well, Skojec.

I do stand by my article. Recall I said the pope should answer the dubia, that the questions were fair enough, and that not answering them encouraged confusion (and the leaping of miles on the authority of inches) when the pope could clarify and reign in.

Recall I also said it was “ill-advised” for Burke, et al., to make them public. And any talk of Burke or anyone else “formally correcting” the Holy Father is just impertinent madness. That would be a schismatic act, in my view.

Go with me once more, dear reader, to Donum Veritatis. Let us look at §30.

If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian’s part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. [So far so good. This is what dubia are.] He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.

And you know, this is exactly the spirit in which Burke claims, many a time and oft, that he has acted. The dubia are “honest questions,” he says (as quoted by LSD). “We proposed them very seriously,” he says. It was all done “with great respect,” he says. So Burke has, according to his own careful insistence, acted “with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties.”

And yet Donum Veritatis adds this:

In cases like these, the theologian should avoid turning to the “mass media”, but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders service to the truth.

But you know, that is exactly what has happened—that Burke has “turned to the mass media,” and that the media (all the usual suspects) are using the dubia as a weapon to stir up further strife and dissension against Pope Francis. That sort of atmosphere, according to the CDF, does not achieve the “clarification of doctrinal issues.” It does not “render service to the truth.”

Rather it achieves the opposite—because the discussion has now shifted from clarification to correction. If you say, “I don’t understand, can you clarify?” that is one thing. But when you say, “This papal document is in error, so I will take it upon myself to correct the situation,” that is very different.

There certainly is a tradition in the Church of seeking clarification of the pope through dubia. That the pope has not answered these involving Amoris Laetitia bothers me. I don’t think that was best.

But there is not a tradition in the Church of a “formal correction” of the pope. And don’t talk to me about “Paul corrected Peter.” Paul rebuked Peter for having sinned, for having acted contrary to what Peter had taught to be true. Paul did not correct Peter’s teaching. The pope is, Vatican I points out, the Church’s supreme teacher and supreme legislator. “The sentence of the Apostolic See,” the Council says, is the “highe[st] authority [and] is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon.” Those who say otherwise” “stray from the genine path of truth.”

So no, Cardinal Burke can’t “correct” the pope.

The pope, however, can correct him. I don’t say he should or he should not. But if you want to talk about “formal correction,” the pope is the only one with the authority to do that. If Burke were to try to issue some “formal correction,” the pope could say, “This has no authority in the Church.” He could say, “This constitutes a schismatic act.” He could discipline Burke in any way he felt appropriate.

I don’t say he should or he should not.

“But Alt!” you say. “Isn’t Cardinal Burke right that “there are some acts that are always and everywhere wrong?”

Indeed there are. And how do I know that? Because Pope Francis said so in Amoris Laetitia:

For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace. (295)

Oh, so Pope Francis means there are no exceptions? Well, why do I need Burke to tell me this, and pretend it’s some sort of necessary “correction”? It’s right there in Amoris Laetitia

“Oh, but Alt! What about the internal forum? What about footnote 351? What about personal discernment?”

Yes. These are all about determining degree of personal culpability as it relates to sacramental discipline. The pope understands some people are not fully culpable for the situation in which they find themselves, can’t extricate themselves, and then pastors have to decide case by case what to do in moving forward. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.

To recognize that does not entail denying that some acts are always wrong, or that the law can be followed by everyone with the help of grace. Pope Francis himself says that.

How the one relates to the other certainly can be clarified for those who have difficulty, or so as not to encourage bishops to make miles out of inches. I really, really wish the pope would.

But “formal correction”? Stop it with that loose and dangerous talk. That’s more divisive and schism-encouraging than anything the pope has done. Take care the pope does not correct you.


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