Cardinal Burke Denies Being an ‘Enemy of the Pope’

US Cardinal Raymond Burke attends the of funeral mass for late Cardinal William Joseph Levada on September 27, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

Cardinal Raymond Burke forcefully denies being an enemy of Pope Francis in a lengthy interview with Ross Douthat of the New York Times.

“Throughout my priesthood, I was always criticized for being too attentive to what the pope was saying,” said the cardinal in an interview published this weekend in the New York Times. “And now I find myself in a situation where I’m called the enemy of the pope, which I am not.”

Burke said that the label grew out of his reaction to what was happening in the 2014 Vatican Synod on the Family, when his friend Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the late archbishop of Bologna, approached him and asked, “What is going on?”

“He said those of us who are defending the church’s teaching and discipline are now called enemies of the pope,” said Burke.

“I haven’t changed. I’m still teaching the same things I always taught and they’re not my ideas,” said Burke, the former chief of the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court. “But now suddenly this is perceived as being contrary to the Roman pontiff.”

“And I think here what’s entered in is a very political view of the papacy, where the pope is some kind of absolute monarch who can do whatever he wants,” he said. “That has never been the case in the church.”

“The pope is not a revolutionary, elected to change the church’s teaching,” he added. “And a lot of the secular view is people looking at the church, but not understanding her profound reality.”

Despite the pope’s rather harsh treatment of Burke, the cardinal says he does not think that Francis regards him as his enemy.

“I don’t think so. He’s never said that to me. I don’t meet him frequently, but in the encounters I’ve had he’s never reprimanded me or accused me of having inimical thoughts or attitudes toward him,” he said.

Burke does recognize that the pontiff has “demoted” him repeatedly.

“Well, in December of 2013 he removed me from the congregation of bishops,” he said. “Then he removed me from the Apostolic Signatura, to name me Cardinal Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta. And then in 2016, he took that away — he left me with a title, but I don’t have a function.”

“It’s clear that the pope doesn’t want me in any leadership position, that he doesn’t see me as the kind of person he wants to be giving any strong direction to things,” he said. “But I’ve never had the impression that he thinks I’m his enemy.”

Burke said that he has been critical of certain decisions of the pope but insists that he has done so out of loyalty to the papacy and to the Church, and not out of hostility.

“I tried to always communicate directly with the pope about it: I don’t like to play games with people, to pretend that I’m thinking one thing while I’m thinking the opposite,” he said.

“You won’t find me ever criticizing the pope personally,” he continued. “But when I saw what I judged to be harmful directions in the church, when I saw this whole discussion in the synod on the family calling into question the foundations of the church’s teaching on human sexuality, I had to speak up because it was my duty.”

Burke’s main worry is that the pope’s unwillingness to clarify and articulate key Catholic teachings is undermining the pope’s mission as teacher and universal shepherd of the Church.

“There’s a breakdown of the central teaching authority of the Roman pontiff,” he said. “The successor of St. Peter exercises an essential office of teaching and discipline, and Pope Francis, in many respects, has refused to exercise that office.”

“The teaching has always been that the pope has the fullness of power necessary to defend the faith and to promote it,” Burke said. “So he can’t say, ‘This form of power gives me the authority to not defend the faith and to not promote it.’”

The cardinal said that in his criticism he has been “deeply concerned not to call into question respect for the papal office,” adding that he believes that Francis is the legitimate pope.

“Yes, yes. I’ve had people present to me all kinds of arguments calling into question the election of Pope Francis,” he said. “But I name him every time I offer the Holy Mass, I call him Pope Francis, it’s not an empty speech on my part. I believe that he is the pope.”

Regarding the possibility of schism, Burke insists that this is not a real option for Catholics.

“Schism, that can never be the will of Christ,” he said. “Christ can never will a division in his body.”

“People come to me and say, look, cardinal, it’s time, we have to go into schism,” he said. “And I say no, it’s not possible. Our Lord can’t want that, and I’m not going to be part of any schism.”

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