By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE
(Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the address; part two will appear in next week’s issue.)
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Recently, I participated in a three-day conference on the Sacred Liturgy in which many good young priests also participated. There were several occasions to visit with them about their priestly ministry. As is my experience in most places that I visit, the priests expressed a great concern about the situation in which the world and the Church find themselves. It is a situation which can most simply be described as confusion, division, and error. Toward the end of the conference, one young pastor approached me and asked: “Cardinal, do you think that we are in the end times?” The expression on his face made clear the sincerity of his question and the profound concern which prompted it. I did not hesitate to respond: “It may be so.” We are living in most troubled times in the world and also in the Church. Secularization has ravaged the culture of many nations, especially in the West, alienating culture from its only true source in God and His plan for us and our world. There is the daily and widespread attack on innocent and defenseless human life with the resulting unprecedented violence in family life and in society, in general.
There is the ever more virulent gender ideology which propagates total confusion about our identity as male and female, and leads to the profound unhappiness and even self-destruction of many in society. There is also the denial of the freedom of religion which attempts to hinder, if not snuff out completely, any public discourse about God and our necessary relationship with Him. With the denial of the freedom of religion comes the attempt to force God-fearing individuals to act against their well-formed conscience, that is, against God’s law written upon the human heart. In supposedly free countries, the government forces upon society practices of abortion, sterilization, contraception, euthanasia, and lack of respect for human sexuality, even to the point of indoctrinating small children in the iniquitous “gender theory.”
At the same time, atheistic materialism and relativism leads to the unscrupulous pursuit of wealth, pleasure, and power, while the rule of law, dictated by justice, is trampled underfoot. In such a pervasively disordered cultural condition, there is legitimate fear of a global confrontation which can only mean destruction and death for many. Clearly, the present situation of the world cannot continue without leading to total annihilation.
The world has never needed more the solid teaching and direction which Our Lord, in His immeasurable and unceasing love of man, wishes to give to the world through His Church and especially through her pastors: the Roman Pontiff, the Bishops in communion with the See of Peter, and their principal co-workers, the priests. But, in a diabolical way, the confusion and error which has led human culture in the way of death and destruction has also entered into the Church, so that she draws near to the culture without seeming to know her own identity and mission, without seeming to have the clarity and the courage to announce the Gospel of Life and Divine Love to the radically secularized culture.
For example, after the June 30 decision of the German Parliament to accept so-called “same-sex marriage,” the President of Conference of Bishops in Germany declared that the decision was not a major concern for the Church which, according to him, should be more concerned about intolerance towards persons suffering from same-sex attraction. (1) Clearly, in such an approach, there is no longer the just and necessary distinction between the love which we as Christians must always have for the person involved in sin and the hatred which we also must always have for sinful acts.
Pope Benedict XVI in his greeting on the occasion of the Funeral Mass for Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Emeritus Archbishop of Cologne in Germany, made reference to the general situation of the Church in relationship to the culture. Having had the privilege to know Cardinal Meisner somewhat well and to work with him in the defense of the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony, Holy Communion, and the moral law, I know how much he suffered from the ever-increasing confusion about the Church’s teaching within the Church herself. Clearly, he had expressed the same concerns to Pope Benedict XVI, concerns which seemingly were mutual, while at the same time he reaffirmed, as our faith teaches us to do, His trust in Our Lord Who has promised to remain with His Mystical Body “all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (2)
Regarding Cardinal Meisner’s abiding pastoral concerns, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“We know that this passionate shepherd and pastor found it difficult to leave his post, especially at a time in which the Church stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination. However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.” (3)
When I last spoke with Cardinal Meisner in Cologne on March 4 of this year, he was serene, but, at the same time, he expressed his determination to continue to fight for Christ and for the truths which He teaches us, in an unbroken line, through the Apostolic Tradition.
Cardinal Meisner’s fidelity to his office of shepherd of the flock, even when he was no longer the Archbishop of Cologne, was a tremendous source of strength for many other shepherds in the Church who are struggling each day to lead the flock in the way of Christ. For whatever reason, many shepherds are silent about the situation in which the Church finds herself or have abandoned the clarity of the Church’s teaching for the confusion and error which is wrongly thought to address more effectively the total collapse of Christian culture.
The young pastor who asked me the question about the possibly apocalyptic nature of the present time in the Church and in the world spoke from an experience of ever greater challenges in teaching the truths of the faith with integrity, while witnessing a seeming lack of clarity and courage on the part of higher ecclesial authority.
In fact, the totally materialist and relativist culture, embraced and powerfully supported by the secular means of communication and the political lobbying of wealthy secularists, encourages the confusion and division in the Church. Some time ago, a Cardinal in Rome commented on how good it is that the secular media are no longer attacking the Church, as they did so fiercely during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. My response was that the approval of the secular media is, on the contrary, for me a sign that the Church is failing badly in her clear and courageous witness to the world for the salvation of the world.
Coupled with the interest of the enemies of the Church in praising and promoting confusion and error within the Church is also a worldly political reading of the governance of the Church. For the architects of a secular and politicized Church, those who present what the Church has always taught and practiced are now the enemies of the Pope. Doctrine and discipline, which together with Sacred Worship, are the essential gifts of Christ to us in the Church are now viewed as the tools of supposed rigid fundamentalists who are trying to hinder the pastoral care of the faithful, as it is desired by Pope Francis. We even witness the sad situation of members of the hierarchy publicly accusing one another of a political and mundane agenda, as politicians attack one another to advance a political agenda.
In this regard, the fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) essential to the exercise of the office of the Successor of Saint Peter is falsely portrayed as absolute power, thus betraying the Primacy of the Successor of Saint Peter who is the first among us in obedience to Christ alive for us in the Church through the Apostolic Tradition. Secular voices promote the image of the Pope as a reformer who is a revolutionary, that is, as one who undertakes the reform of the Church by breaking from the Tradition, the rule of the faith (regula fidei) and the corresponding rule of law (regula iuris).
But the office of Saint Peter has nothing to do with revolution, which is primarily a political and mundane term. As the Second Vatican Council taught, the Successor of Peter “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” (4) The fullness of power, the unhindered exercise of the office of the Roman Pontiff, is precisely to protect him from the kind of worldly and relativist thought which leads to confusion and division. It also enables him to announce and defend the faith in its integrity.
Describing what has become known as “the power of the keys,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that it is founded on Saint Peter’s confession of Our Lord as God the Son Incarnate for our eternal salvation (5) and declares:
“Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.” (6)
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.
Regarding the frequent statements of Pope Francis, there has developed a popular understanding that every statement of the Holy Father must be accepted as papal teaching or magisterium. The mass media has certainly wanted to pick and choose among the declarations of Pope Francis, in order to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is undergoing a revolution and is changing radically its teaching on certain key questions of faith and especially of morals. The matter is complicated because Pope Francis regularly chooses to speak in a colloquial manner, whether during interviews given on airplanes or to news outlets, or in spontaneous remarks to various groups. Such being the case, when one places his remarks within the proper context of the teaching and practice of the Church, he may be accused of speaking against the Holy Father.
I recall one of the eminent Fathers of the Extraordinary Session of the Synod of Bishops, held during October of 2014, approaching me during a break to say: “What is going on? Those of us who are upholding what the Church has always taught and practiced are now called enemies of the Pope?” As a result, one is tempted to remain silent or to try to explain doctrinally a language which confuses or even contradicts doctrine.