Is the “formal act of correction” off the table?

Cardinal BurkeIn Louisville, KY, on July 22, Raymond Cardinal Burke delivered an address at the Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World.

Before we take a look at the address itself, let it be said that as His Eminence’s frequent flyer miles are piling up, so too are the days and weeks and months since the dubia was delivered to Francis (to say nothing of the souls that are being misled as a result).

As I write, the one-year anniversary of the dubia is less than six weeks away.

One can only hope and pray that Cardinal Burke will soon find time in his busy schedule to make the “formal act of correction” that he promised to deliver so many conference appearances ago.

Based on the content of his Louisville address, however, one may well be moved to ask:

Has Cardinal Burke reconsidered; i.e., has he decided that a “formal act of correction” is no longer necessary?

We will return to this question momentarily.

In his presentation, His Eminence states:

In the Middle Ages, the Church spoke of the two bodies of the Pope: the body of the man and the body of the Vicar of Christ … Pope Francis has chosen to speak often in his first body, the body of the man who is Pope. In fact, even in documents which, in the past, have represented more solemn teaching, he states clearly that he is not offering magisterial teaching but his own thinking.

These “documents which, in the past, have represented more solemn teaching,” is an obvious reference to the Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia; obvious because Cardinal Burke’s initial reaction to the document included his insistence upon its “personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature.”

It was perhaps with this in mind that the 45 theologians (mentioned in a recent post) stated in their critique:

Some commentators have asserted that the document does not contain magisterial teaching as such, but only the personal reflections of the Pope on the subjects it addresses. This assertion if true would not remove the danger to faith and morals posed by the document.

Notice the qualifier “if true;” i.e., the 45 theologians are unwilling to concede Cardinal Burke’s point that Amoris Laetitia is simply a personal opinion. In fact, they reject that position explicitly:

It is however not the case that Amoris laetitia is intended to do no more than express the personal views of the Pope.

In either case, they are clear: The document poses a danger to faith and morals.

With respect to the authority of Amoris Laetitia, the 45 theologians, I believe, spoke well in referring to the document’s “official character.”

On this point, there can be no disagreement – the promulgation of an Apostolic Exhortation addressed to the entire Church is most certainly an “official” act.

Yes, but is it a ‘teaching’ act?

To be precise, in Amoris Laetitia, Francis does not, as Cardinal Burke maintains, “state clearly that he is not offering magisterial teaching.” He simply says of the text:

I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges. (AL 4)

This sentence in no way renders the entirety of the text to follow merely a personal opinion as opposed to an act of teaching.

Shockingly, part of Cardinal Burke’s difficulty in acknowledging as much lies in a misapplication of papal infallibility; in fact, well beyond its limits.

At one point, he states:

It is simply wrong and harmful to the Church to receive every declaration of the Holy Father as an expression of papal teaching or magisterium …

This is undoubtedly true, but he then goes on to say:

Thus, it is absurd to think that Pope Francis can teach something which is not in accord with what his predecessors, for example Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Saint John Paul II, have solemnly taught.

This enough to leave one speechless.

Clearly, Cardinal Burke – co-author of the dubia – realizes that Amoris Laetitia contains any number of things that are not in accord with what Benedict XVI and John Paul II “solemnly taught” (to say nothing of what the Council of Trent taught!)

So what gives?

You see, in Cardinal Burke’s estimation, a pope can never put forth a false “teaching” – even in cases where the act is devoid of any intent to define and bind (as is the case with Amoris Laetitia).

As for those times when a pope may propose that which is false, according to Cardinal Burke’s manner of thinking, such cannot properly be considered an act of “teaching” at all; even if it is set forth in an “official” document like an Apostolic Exhortation. To his mind, “it is absurd” to think otherwise.

This simply isn’t a Catholic thought.

No one among the well-informed denies that Pope John XXII was guilty of teaching error in the fourteenth century when he publicly proposed his personal opinion, which was incorrect, concerning the beatific vision.

This is what Cardinal Burke had to say about this in his December 2016 interview with Catholic World Report:

[John XXII] was corrected for a wrong teaching he had on the beatific vision.

Get that? A wrong teaching…

Here, His Eminence is referring to the fact that Pope John XXII, in several sermons, preached his personal (and erroneous) opinion that the blessed departed will not enjoy the beatific vision until after the bodily resurrection takes place at the end of the age. Underscoring the fact that this was merely his opinion (as opposed to a binding proclamation), the pope even expressly stated that theologians were free to disagree.

As his comment to CWR indicates, Cardinal Burke considers this to be an example of a pope elevating his personal opinion to the level of “teaching.”

And yet, he does not consider the dissemination of grave falsehoods throughout the Universal Church in an Apostolic Exhortation –  a document that clearly has an “official character” – a matter of teaching!

Clearly, Cardinal Burke is not only inconsistent, he is quite confused; in particular as it concerns the limits of papal infallibility.

Even so, wouldn’t you know, there are those even in the “traditional” community who are so invested in the cult of personality surrounding His Eminence that they are publicly applauding him specifically for his discourse on this very topic!

In any case, at this, let us now return to the question at hand:

Has Cardinal Burke decided that a “formal act of correction” of Francis’ errors, as set forth in Amoris Laetitia, is no longer appropriate much less necessary?

The answer, I believe, is made evident by the way in which His Eminence prefaced his previously cited remarks concerning the distinction between papal teaching and the personal opinion of the man who is pope.

He said:

The way in which I have come to understand the duty to correct the popular understanding regarding Church teaching and the declarations of the Pope is to distinguish, as the Church has always done, the words of the man who is Pope and the words of the Pope as Vicar of Christ on earth.

What he appears to be saying is that he has come to understand that his duty to correct in this case extends no further than making the aforementioned distinction.

Setting aside Cardinal Burke’s clearly overblown conception of papal infallibility (specifically, his claim that it is absurd to imagine Francis teaching error even in a non-binding way), let us consider whether or not his sense of duty in this case is sufficient.

According to the 45 theologians, it is not. They state:

If the Supreme Pontiff expresses a personal opinion in a magisterial document, this expression of opinion implicitly presents the opinion in question as one that it is legitimate for Catholics to hold. As a result, many Catholics will come to believe that the opinion is indeed compatible with Catholic faith and morals. Some Catholics out of respect for a judgment expressed by the Supreme Pontiff will come to believe that the opinion is not only permissible but true. If the opinion in question is not in fact compatible with Catholic faith or morals, these Catholics will thus reject the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church as it applies to this opinion.

While not conceding that Amoris Laetitia can be dismissed as something other than an act of teaching, I agree wholeheartedly with this statement concerning the real and present danger to souls posed by the document.

As such, it is my firm conviction that Cardinal Burke deceives himself if he believes that he has already sufficiently fulfilled his “duty to correct,” if indeed that be so.

Perhaps His Eminence will be asked about this directly in a future interview (which, if history is any indication, cannot be very far removed from today).

In the interest of space, I will not delve any further into Cardinal Burke’s Louisville address in this post.

I will, however, return to it later, at which time I will gladly point out whatever good and praiseworthy things he had to say, while also shining the light of truth on those things that are false and dangerous.


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