Sunday, January 11, 2015


My comments first: John Allen has a good article on Cardinal Raymond Burke and the tradition of prelates opposing some aspects of the leadership of popes.

My only suggestion to John Allen or corrective is that liberal prelates who have changed the Church in their dioceses to the extent that it no longer resembles the Catholic Faith or Church have dioceses that are dying, just as liberal religious orders are dying. 

We simply hope and pray that the liberalizing winds of the Church and papacy today are not going to produce in the Church Universal what they produced in Religious Orders, especially women's orders. That would be a disaster.

More disastrous would be for the Catholic Church to pantomime the liberal Protestant denominations that have become irrelevant due to their excessive liberalization that now makes them post-Christian, such as the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. Do we want to become like them. Pray no!

Cardinal Burke and his discontents
by John Allen of Crux
In the language of the journalism business, Cardinal Raymond Burke is always “good copy.” The phrase means that people may love or hate what he’s got to say, but he never fails to stir things up.
Burke has a long history as a hero to the politically conservative and liturgically traditional camps in the Catholic Church. Last October he emerged as a leader of the conservative faction at the Synod of Bishops on the family, taking a strong line against the idea of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

The 66-year-old American prelate was at it again recently, saying in comments to a men’s ministry project that the Catholic Church has become excessively “feminized” and blaming declines in priestly vocations on the growing use of altar girls.

Some observers wonder if Burke’s outspokenness means Francis miscalculated in November when he removed Burke from his position as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court and assigned him to a largely ceremonial role as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Under the heading of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” the theory goes that Francis may have erred by freeing Burke to become an even greater thorn in his side.

One sees the logic, but frankly there’s scant evidence that leaving him in place would have made much difference. It’s not as if Burke has a track record of muzzling himself because of his job title.
Appointment to his Vatican post by Benedict XVI in 2008, for instance, didn’t stop Burke from blasting the Democrats in the United States as the “party of death.” Nor did it stop him in 2009 from claiming that no Catholic in good conscience could have voted for Obama, or from insisting in 2013 that Irish priests should deny Communion to any politician supporting liberalization of access to abortion.

The truth is, one of the most difficult things to do in the Catholic Church, even for a pope, is to get a cardinal to be quiet who doesn’t feel like it.

Moreover, Burke’s transition may at least contribute to a bit of clarity.

Over the years, it’s been common for newspaper headlines to claim that “Vatican says X” whenever Burke speaks out, simply because he was a Vatican official — even though he wasn’t speaking in any official capacity, and even though his comments often didn’t reflect the majority sentiment in Rome.
In Burke’s defense, he would usually clarify after the fact that he wasn’t speaking as a Vatican official but simply as an individual bishop, but that never did much to alter the narrative after it had been set.
Now, presumably, the headline will be “Burke says X.”

For the record, Francis and Burke had a sit-down Thursday, described by the Vatican as a routine session anytime a cardinal gets a new job, and one that was on the calendar well before Burke’s most recent interview appeared.

Perhaps so, but I suspect lots of folks who would have paid real money to be a fly on the wall in that room.

Anti-Francis backlash in context

The Burke saga has left some observers wondering if the internal opposition Francis faces is unprecedented, especially at senior levels of the Church.

To begin, let’s be crystal clear: According to tradition, Francis is the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, and he’s also the 266th pope to have problems with some of his bishops. The story goes all the way back to the Acts of the Apostles, and a celebrated clash between Peter and Paul.

More recently, both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI faced enormous internal opposition, both from the grassroots and from sectors of the hierarchy. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and more than 5,000 bishops, and to think that at any given time some share of both aren’t going to be unhappy with their leader is a delusion.

In sum, the notion that there’s anything terribly new about what we’re seeing today is, for all intents and purposes, hogwash.

During the John Paul II years, there was an axis of moderate-to-liberal prelates that routinely cut in a different direction from the pontiff, including Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, Godfried Danneels of Brussels, Basil Hume of Westminster, Karl Lehmann and Walter Kasper of Germany, Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, and Paulo Arns and Aloisio Lorscheider of Brazil.

All those men either were, or eventually became, cardinals.

During a 1985 synod of bishops, Danneels took up the issue of collegiality, meaning power-sharing and decentralization, insisting that “it must be understood in a deeper way and put into effect in a fuller way.” It was seen as a criticism of the pope, just like Burke’s comments last October.
In 2000, when John Paul II issued the document Dominus Iesus on the Church’s relationship with other religions, containing the line that non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient” position vis-à-vis salvation, Lehmann objected out loud that it broke with the “style” of the documents of Vatican II.
(As a footnote, Dominus Iesus was prepared by the future Pope Benedict, who was then the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office.)

At times complaints even arrived from bishops en masse. During a 1998 synod, Asian prelates almost as a bloc complained of what they saw as an over-concentration of power in Rome, not allowing them sufficient flexibility to adapt the faith to Asian cultures, and also a basic Vatican incomprehension of their situation.

At other levels, John Paul also faced stiff blowback.

The 1989 “Cologne Declaration,” signed by 163 leading Catholic theologians from around the world, complained of a “new Roman centralism” and rejected what it called “intolerable” interference and “questionable forms of control” in theological debate.

To take another example, when John Paul II visited the liberal Netherlands in 1985, he drew tepid crowds in some places and angry protestors in others. As one commentator wrote at the time, “Never before were the streets so empty, and the stone-throwers so nearby.”

As for Benedict, arguably no pope in the last century faced such intense internal opposition, both at the top and the bottom of the Church.

For instance, blowback against Benedict’s outreach to the traditionalist Lefebvrite movement and his liberalization of permission for the Latin Mass proved so intense that in 2009 a coalition of French Catholics launched an on-line petition in defense of the embattled pontiff.

Some 38,000 people signed, but it was hard to miss the point that only three of France’s almost 200 Catholic bishops joined them.

Shortly before he died in 2012, Martini, the liberal cardinal in Milan, gave an interview to a Jesuit colleague in which he said that the Catholic Church was “200 years out of date,” a line widely seen as a shot at Benedict.

When Benedict traveled to the United Kingdom in 2010, the trip overall was a success, but an anti-papal rally in downtown London nevertheless drew 10,000 people, the largest street protest against a pope in modern history.

So great was the unrest during the Benedict years that two respected Italian journalists actually brought out a 2010 book called “Attack on Ratzinger,” chronicling a whole series of episodes that had whipped up protest, complaints and controversy.

It wasn’t just Benedict’s reputation for theological and political conservativism that drew opposition.
During those years, it was a favorite parlor game among Vatican-watchers to try to figure out which Princes of the Church were endeavoring to sabotage the pontiff, threatened by his calls for a “purification” and his anti-corruption drive on Vatican finances.

After Benedict resigned in February 2013, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a protégé of the pontiff, told his fellow cardinals during a meeting before the conclave to elect a successor that they should perform an examination of conscience as to whether they’d failed to support Benedict when he needed them most.

Two final points.

It might be tempting to say that what’s new about Francis’ opposition is that it’s coming from the right rather than the left. Tempting, that is, but wrong.

First of all, both John Paul II and Benedict had critics on the right, too, just as there are some on the left who resist Francis’ charms. Moreover, the last time Catholicism had a basically center-left pope, Paul VI in the 1960s and 70s, he also faced severe right-wing backlash.

For instance, when Pope Paul approved a more modern form of the Mass using vernacular languages rather than Latin in 1969, one of his own cardinals, an influential Vatican veteran, wrote the pontiff a lengthy letter basically accusing him of heresy.
As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago once memorably put it, in the Catholic Church everything has happened at least once.

As for how Francis may cope with this resistance, one suspects it won’t be markedly different from how most other popes have done it, with varying degrees of success. The strategy boils down to ignoring it for the most part, and, every once in a while, cracking a head or two to remind people who’s in charge.

On that score, just ask Cardinal Raymond Burke.


Gene said...

So Allen is saying just shut up and accept it all. Cool.

Anonymous said...

I get this haunting sense of similarity that Cardinal Burke is re-living what Ronald Reagan was living during the last days of Jimmy Carter: poised to restore order and common sense, just waiting for the liberal facade to come crashing down on itself.

Rood Screen said...

"...When Pope Paul approved a more modern form of the Mass using vernacular languages rather than Latin in 1969..." He doesn't know what he's talking about. Permission was already given for the 1962 missal, including the canon, to be celebrated entirely in the vernacular before the reformed missal was published. The opposition was to the reformed order of Mass ("novus ordo"), not its language.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it is a misconception that the Novus Ordo introduced the vernacular, or even that the vernacular was a significant feature of the Novus Ordo. Everywhere I knew about, Latin had largely or entirely disappeared and Mass was celebrated in the vernacular several years before the Novus Ordo saw the light of day in 1970. In particular, most pew Catholics welcomed the 1965 Order of Mass—now referred to as the “interim order of 1965”, though at the time it was introduced and announced as the final and definitive form of the Mass revised as directed by Vatican II—and its provision for the vernacular celebration in an English translation that was still dignified and sacral. The objections that soon developed alongside the initial enthusiasm for the vernacular, were instead to the precursors of Novus Ordo silliness and desacralization—e.g., banal folk songs replacing Mass texts, ripping out altar rails and standing for communion, etc--that began to appear, even though Catholics generally (including most bishops) were unaware that a secret commission was continuing to work in the mid to late 1960s on what became the Novus Ordo.

JusadBellum said...

Who doesn't remember the 'parallel magisterium' or the "American Catholic Church" promoted by Call to Action and others during St. JP2's reign?

The dissent of Humane Vitae was organized, global, and public...and nothing at all happened to the theologians and priests who signed on to the dissent.

It's sort of like how in 2008 political dissent was the highest sign of patriotism (as per Her majesty, HRC) but by 2009 political dissent was henceforth to be deemed racism and unpatriotic.

So which is it? Is dissent cool or not? I suppose then as now, it all depends on who is dissenting from what and how. Maybe it's good or maybe it's bad. But our typical 4th grade level public discourse really fails at making such distinctions.