By DON FIER
(Editor’s Note: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who previously served as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome from June 2008 until November 2014, recently visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. Prior to that he served as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Mo., and as Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, during which time he founded the Shrine. His Eminence granted an interview to The Wanderer on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe during which he shared his insights on a variety of topics, including the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family and on the New Evangelization.
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Q. Several weeks have passed since the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. What do you see as the lasting impact of the disturbing midterm relatio? Do you think the subsequent changes made in the final relatio went far enough? What will take place in preparation for the General Synod next fall and who will participate?
A. The very disturbing midterm relatio, which I have openly said was not a relatio or report but a manifesto, served to wake up the Synod Fathers to an agenda that was at work which touches upon the truth about marriage. In the period between the midterm report and the final relatio, the small groups worked very diligently to try to repair the serious damage done by the midterm relatio — and much progress was made.
For example, the midterm relatio had practically no foundation in Sacred Scripture or the extremely rich teaching of the Church’s Magisterium on marriage — even if one considers only St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio [his 1981 apostolic exhortation “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”].
I believe that the changes that were made in the final relatio were a great improvement, but I do not think they were sufficient. One thing that disturbs me is the three very objectionable paragraphs which did not receive the required two-thirds approval by the Synod Fathers, but yet were included in the final printed text. One must to go to the end of the document to see the notation indicating that they were not approved. This has never happened before in a Synod of Bishops. If a proposition did not receive approval by two-thirds of the voting members, it simply did not become part of the final synodal document.
A Lineamenta [preparatory document] for the forthcoming 2015 General Synod has been formulated and issued so as to obtain feedback from dioceses around the world. On the basis of the responses that come back, the Vatican’s Office for the Synod of Bishops will produce a working document — an Instrumentum Laboris — for use by the ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops when they gather in October of 2015.
With regard to participants, we know they will include the heads of the Roman dicasteries and representatives elected by the Conferences of Bishops. The participants we do not know are those whom the Holy Father will ask to participate by special invitation.
Q. The term “development of doctrine,” as articulated by Cardinal Newman in his famous 1845 essay, was cited by some bishops at the Extraordinary Synod. Please explain what the term means and when it applies. Is its use justified for changes being proposed for dogmatic teachings on marriage, the family, reception of Holy Communion, and other topics that are included in the Synod’s final relatio?
A. The “development of doctrine” means that the truths of the Faith, which remain unchanged and are unchangeable, experience a deeper understanding in the Church. In other words, the Church can deepen her appreciation of such truths as, for example, the indissolubility of marriage and the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Technically speaking, the doctrine does not develop — it remains the same. What is attained rather is a richer appreciation of the doctrine under consideration.
For instance, any change with regard to the reception of Holy Communion on the part of those in irregular matrimonial unions cannot occur. The doctrine is clear — it is the word of Christ Himself Who said, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” The meaning is very clear because even His disciples said to Him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But Our Lord reassures them that if a person is called to marriage, God will give him or her the grace to live the sacrament. So there can be no change with regard to the truth of the indissolubility of marriage. Therefore, there is an inability for those who attempt a second marriage, while still bound in a matrimonial union, to receive Holy Communion. They are living in an objective state of grave sin.
It would be the same with regard to the suggestion that the Church could discover elements of goodness in extramarital sexual relations. This is impossible — these are gravely sinful relations, and there cannot be anything good about them. The same is true for homosexual acts.
Q. Returning to a point you previously mentioned, you noted that even though three contentious paragraphs failed to garner the required two-thirds majority, they were included in the final relatio. You subsequently called for these “hot-button topics” to be removed from consideration. Do you think there is a legitimate possibility that they will be taken off the table prior to the General Synod?
In the meantime, how can faithful Catholics respond to questions regarding the perception of many that the Church is on the verge of changing her teaching? What positive steps can be taken by the laity?
A. I trust that there is a possibility that these topics will be taken off the table prior to the General Synod — that is precisely why I have insisted upon it. But it will not happen easily because those insisting on their consideration are in positions of great influence with regard to the Synod of Bishops.
The Church cannot change her teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the grave sinfulness of sexual relations outside the matrimonial union and the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts.
The laity needs to nourish themselves with the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium on marriage, with the teaching that is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They must also give witness to it in their everyday dealings, not only with other Catholics but with people who are not of the Catholic Faith, to make it clear that the Church is not changing her teaching — indeed, that she cannot.
I am hopeful that there will be opportunities for the lay faithful to take part in days of study with regard to the Church’s teaching on marriage and its beauty. I also hope that there might be demonstrations and other public manifestations in support of the truth about marriage.
Q. “Who am I to judge?” continues to be a phrase that is used and misused by the media and is a source of confusion among many of the lay faithful. In your opinion, what steps need to be taken by the Church’s Magisterium to correct misperceptions of this statement? When is it acceptable to make judgments and when is it not?
A. The phrase “Who am I to judge?” is one that I have to understand according to sound Catholic teaching and practice, namely, “Who am I to judge the individual?” We have always withheld judgment on an individual because to be in grave sin, one must have knowledge and full consent of the will. The Church has always taught that we love the sinner, but we hate the sin.
On the other hand, a person is bound to judge evil acts as evil. We cannot pretend — tolerance cannot fly in the face of truth. We are held to judge if we see an act which is objectively disordered — to make that judgment. For instance, if people are involved in extramarital activities, one must be charitable to them, loving the sinner but at the same time being very clear that the acts they are committing are gravely immoral.
The Goodness Of Suffering
Q. Another “culture of death” issue that is gaining momentum is euthanasia. Recently, a 29-year old woman with untreatable brain cancer chose to “die with dignity,” to “die gently” at a time and place of her choosing with family members present and her favorite music playing in the background. The Vatican, including the Holy Father and the Pontifical Academy for Life, spoke out against the practice of assisted suicide. Family members and assisted suicide advocates responded by insisting this is a human rights issue, that the Church’s religious beliefs should not be imposed on others, and even that Vatican officials lack sensitivity and compassion. Please explain why these reactions, in reality, are misguided and a form of false compassion.
A. There can be no human right that goes against the inviolable dignity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. One can never claim as a human right the right to end his or her own life. That is suicide and is contrary to the natural moral law.
The Church is not, in this case, imposing her confessional beliefs on anyone. She is simply upholding the moral law that is inscribed in every human heart, namely that human life is a gift from God Who gives it freely and Who also calls us home to Himself in His time.
A great sadness here is that we have lost all sense of the goodness of suffering, of sharing in Christ’s suffering for the sake of others and for the sake of the Church. We give the sick and the suffering the idea that their suffering is useless when, in fact, it is an invitation to love even more selflessly and purely God and one’s neighbor.
The advocates of euthanasia have a completely man-centered, rationalist understanding of human life. They see human life as a mechanical operation that can be terminated in a situation of suffering when one chooses and according to orchestrated circumstances. The compassionate approach is to help someone to accept his or her suffering and to await, with hope and trust, God’s call to come home to Him.
Q. The crisis of catechesis that began two or three generations ago still seems to have a stranglehold on our society. Many who profess to be Catholic do not acknowledge (or at least accept) basic tenets of the Faith, especially with regard to morality and the natural law. For example, polls indicate that Catholics contracept and divorce and remarry at the same rate as the rest of society. Have you observed any hopeful signs regarding a renewal of catechesis in response to the call for a New Evangelization?
A. I do see hopeful signs. I think, for instance, of the Marian Catechist Apostolate. I also learn from time to time of strong diocesan catechesis programs.
However, until we get back to a complete presentation of the Faith from the early years — starting as soon as children are able to understand — followed by an ever-deepening formation over the years, we will end up in situations where people will not even believe in the natural moral law, let alone the other teachings of the Faith.
Even though there are hopeful signs, we cannot rest on any laurels — a more intense reform of catechesis is needed. For instance, in the Synod on the Family it was evident to me that one of the major problems is that people do not understand marriage because they have not been properly catechized. Sadly, this sometimes applies even to the clergy.
The Extraordinary Form
Q. Please comment on the connection between the Sacred Liturgy and the New Evangelization. Is the Sacred Liturgy a peripheral matter to the preaching of the Gospel? Or does the Sacred Liturgy play an essential role in the Gospel imperative to proclaim Jesus Christ? If the two activities of the Church are in fact essentially connected, how can this connection be shown more clearly and lived more compellingly within the ordinary parish setting? Does a wide celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass have any part to play in the efforts of the New Evangelization?
A. The Sacred Liturgy is absolutely the first act of the New Evangelization. Unless we worship God in spirit and in truth, unless we celebrate the Sacred Liturgy with the greatest possible faith in God and faith in the divine action which takes place in Holy Mass, we are not going to have the inspiration and the grace to carry out the New Evangelization.
The Sacred Liturgy shows us the form of the New Evangelization because it is a direct encounter with the mystery of faith: Christ’s redemptive Incarnation for the sake of conquering sin in our lives and winning for us the grace of the divine life, a share in the life of the Holy Trinity through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
The first three commandments all have to do with the worship of God. It is the Sacred Liturgy which establishes a right relationship with God and with one another which we are called to live in our daily lives.
The way this connection can be more compellingly lived in parish life is by celebrating the Sacred Liturgy in such a way that all of the faithful understand that the priest is acting in the person of Christ. They must understand that it is Christ Himself Who is descending to our altars to make truly present His sacrifice; that they must unite their hearts to His own glorious pierced Heart to cleanse them from sin and thus strengthen them for love of God and love of neighbor.
If the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated in an anthropocentric way, in a horizontal way in which it is no longer evident that it is a divine action, it simply becomes a social activity that can be relativized along with everything else — it doesn’t have any lasting impact on one’s life.
I think the celebration of the Extraordinary Form can have a very significant part to play in the New Evangelization because of its emphasis on the transcendence of the Sacred Liturgy. In other words, it emphasizes the reality of the union of Heaven and earth through the Sacred Liturgy. The action of Christ through the signs of the sacrament, through His priests, is very evident in the Extraordinary Form. It helps us, then, to be more reverent also in the celebration of the Ordinary Form.
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Q. The city of Houston recently subpoenaed sermons from local pastors who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that its mayor had signed into law just a few months before the November elections.
Unfortunately, this flagrant violation of religious liberty is not an isolated instance. Many other legislative actions and executive orders that threaten the practice of our Catholic faith are becoming law at an escalating rate. In your opinion, what is the proper Catholic response to these trends and what can the lay faithful do to reverse them?
A. We must insist with our government that the free exercise of our religion cannot be solely confined to the four walls of our place of worship. It must be inclusive of all that our conscience demands of us as children of God, as those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.
We must vigorously resist these attempts to silence us in giving witness to our Catholic Faith, even if it means going to prison. We must make clear to all of society the grave violation of religious freedom that is involved in such activity.
Q. The existence of Hell and the possibility of eternal damnation seem to have been discounted by many, even by some among the clergy. Many who consider themselves Catholic think it is OK to attend Mass only on Christmas and Easter, to contracept, to cohabitate, etc., yet still remain on the path to Heaven. After all, the argument goes, an all-loving, all-merciful God will condemn no one but the most heinous tyrants (e.g., mass murderers such as Hitler). Many seem to have forgotten that our all-merciful God is also all-just. In your judgment, what has led to this mentality, and what must be done to counter it?
A. I believe that the greater part of the cause for this unfortunate mindset is the loss of the sense of sin. Many people have not been taught the Ten Commandments as the law of life which God has given to us from the beginning — that the Ten Commandments are the explicitation of the natural moral law which God has written in the heart of everyone. Consequently, people do not have a sense of their need to be redeemed, that they are dependent on the help of God’s grace in order to live a good life.
At the same time, many have lost all sense of the virtue of humility. In other words, they have lost the sense that they are creatures and sons and daughters of God who depend completely upon Him for their very life and continued existence. They have lost sight of the fact that He created them and called them into being according to an order that leads to happiness not only in this life, but the promise of eternal happiness in the life to come. When people violate that order by the commission of sin — not only heinous sins but any form of sin, even venial sins — they in some way express a form of disregard for God’s love, His life in their lives, and the order He has placed in their lives.
God calls each of us to conversion, to be repentant for transgressions committed against Him. Each of us should have a strong sense that we are not worthy of God’s love. We simply are not worthy — we are sinners — and anyone who is thinking correctly cannot think otherwise. What does mercy mean if it does not respect the truth of our situation?
Recently somebody said, “Everyone is going to go to Heaven.” At the time, I was visiting an elementary school and a young boy raised his hand and asked, “If everyone is going to Heaven, what is the point of Jesus Christ? What is the point of trying to follow the moral law?”
Q. In the chapter you wrote for the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, you emphasized the importance of seeking the truth in the juridical process to determine if a man and woman are in a valid marriage. You returned often to two key points: (1) this matter concerns “the salvation of souls,” and (2) the discipline that is to be followed has been “carefully developed over the Christian centuries.”
Yet now there is a call to “streamline the process,” to make it a pastoral rather than juridical decision. Please explain the distinction between juridical and pastoral considerations and why objective truth must be sought. Secondly, when a declaration of nullity has been wrongly granted, where does the culpability lie: the tribunal (i.e., the judge, Defender of the Bond, and other members of the tribunal); the couple (i.e., the man and/or woman who sought the declaration of nullity); or both?
A. With regard to the question of the salvation of souls, our vocation in life is the way to salvation. It is by fidelity to our vocation, whether we are called to the married life, to the priesthood, or to the consecrated life, that we save our souls. If we are unfaithful, we are in danger of losing our salvation. That is why the question of vocational discernment is extremely important to us as we are growing up and then, once we embrace our vocation, as we give all our energy to living it fully.
So this is not a matter of declaring marriages null — it is not a matter of just making people’s living arrangements easier. It has to do with a promise a man and woman made before God to live in faithful, enduring, and procreative love of one another. Unless in some way that promise was not made — either because a person was not capable of making the promise or a person deceitfully withheld an essential aspect of the marriage contract — it is a valid marriage and one is bound to live in fidelity to it until death parts the couple.
Therefore the Church, understanding this, has developed a very careful process over the centuries to arrive at the truth. If a party comes to the Church and makes a claim of nullity for his or her marriage, the Church has to seek out the proofs that demonstrate that claim as well as seek out proofs that are contrary to the claim so that the judge can make a decision with moral certitude, that is, a decision where there is no reasonable doubt to the contrary that the claim of nullity is true. The couple making the claim of nullity, in that way, can then be at peace about entering a valid marriage.
The juridical process is, in fact, very pastoral. To make a dichotomy between what is juridical and what is pastoral is false because marriage establishes a relationship between two persons in justice which has a juridical character to it. Only by a juridical process can one be at peace about the nullity of the marriage and therefore, the freedom to enter into union with another person. That is the most pastoral thing.
I always say that justice, what the juridical process seeks to attain, is the minimum but irreplaceable condition for charity. How can you talk about charity if you are not just? If the Church, for instance, is light-heartedly declaring marriages null, it is an injustice to the parties and everyone else involved in the marriage. It is not just the two parties — we are talking about children, relatives, and the whole of society. Think of the tremendous harm that has been caused in our society by no-fault divorce and subsequent rampant divorces. Marriage as an institution is in crisis. So a distinction between the juridical and pastoral simply does not exist.
When the declaration of nullity has been wrongly granted, that is, it is granted without following the process seriously and the judge makes a decision without coming to moral certitude, it weighs on the conscience of the tribunal. We have to think that the parties are acting in good faith. In other words, the parties came to the tribunal, asked for a judgment, and the tribunal gave them a judgment. We cannot hold them accountable for a false judgment unless they deliberately brought false proofs to the tribunal and in some way deceived the tribunal. It is very difficult to imagine that could happen, so we have to presume that they are in good faith.
A point that I would like to make is that every marriage that is broken is not a candidate for a declaration of nullity. Many marriages are broken because of sin. For example, consider a couple entered a valid matrimonial union and lived together for several years and had children. Then, in some midlife crisis, the husband takes up with a young secretary who shows interest in him and abandons his wife. Is that marriage null?
We had a period in the United States — in a very particular way from 1971 until 1983 — during which the volume of declarations of nullity was very high when the process did not respect the time-tried process of the Church. People, not without reason, called the declaration of nullity “Catholic divorce.” They saw declarations of nullity being granted for marriages that were clearly valid.
The Springtime Of Faith
Q. On this great day, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, what can Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization, teach us? Are the events that occurred on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico in 1531 relevant for us today as events continue to unfold? Do you see signs that the “springtime of faith” of which recent popes have spoken may be on the horizon?
A. Certainly Our Lady’s message to St. Juan Diego, and through him to all the people of the Americas, is as relevant today as it was in that time. It was a message of God’s all-merciful love for His people, inviting them to transform their lives, to undergo a conversion of life, and to seek His grace through the sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist.
Our Lady’s message in that time was particularly directed to the horrible situation of an attack on human life, the rampant practice of human sacrifice on the part of native Americans. There was also violence between the Spanish conquistadores and the native American people who were subjected to tremendous loss of life and the destruction of property and goods.
Our Lady came as a mother to teach them that God is the Lord of life and therefore that every human life is to be respected and that God cares with immeasurable and unceasing love for every one of His children. With that message, then, there was a tremendous conversion. Many sought the grace of Baptism, so many that the Franciscan friars who were about the work of evangelization could hardly keep up physically with the demands for instruction in the Faith and Baptism. That message is so potent.
I do see signs of the “springtime of faith.” I see it in the pilgrims that come here to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I wish I could spend more time here because I meet so many people who are seeking with all their heart to lead good lives, to overcome sin in their lives, to live according to the truth of the Gospel. The daily number of pilgrims continues to grow and fundamentally, their encounter with Christ is through the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.
There is much to be done and I must say that in the present moment the springtime seems to be threatened by a cloud of darkness with all this confusion about marriage and other fundamental moral questions. The faithful must continue to pray fervently that the Church will overcome the challenge of the particular moment. It is always the case that when the Holy Spirit is producing some tremendous good that the devil enters in and tries to destroy it with confusion and error. So we have to resist and fight that confusion and error in order to let the springtime continue.
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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is doing research for writing a definitive biography of Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)
If you have not joined up with The Wanderer in its initiative to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage in light of the upcoming Synod on the Family for 2015, I encourage you to do so today. Cardinal Burke has called on both clergy and laity alike to explain and defend the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. The Church is under assault from forces within and without. We must make our voices heard. Fill out the form below and we will keep you apprised as to how you can join with The Wanderer and other like-minded organizations in this next year to make our voices heard as we explain and defend the Church’s teachings in these challenging times ahead. Encourage your friends and family to join this initiative.
Yours in Christ,
Joseph Matt, President, The Wanderer