BuzzFeed News reporter J. Lester Feder spoke with Cardinal Raymond Burke Friday morning via Skype to discuss the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and address rumors that he was being removed as the head of the Vatican's highest court of canon law.
Cardinal Burke: Hello, this is Cardinal Burke.
BuzzFeed News: Apologies, it seems we got disconnected. I was just asking if it's okay if I record our conversation.
CB: Yes, it's fine. That's fine.
BFN: I know you don't have a lot of time, so why don't we just dive in. I've seen your comments suggesting that [the Extraordinary Synod on the Family] was being manipulated. Can you say a little bit more about that, and who is doing the manipulating?
CB: Since the presentation of Cardinal Kasper in February to the extraordinary consistory of cardinals, there's been a consistent repetition of [Kasper's] position that is trying to weaken the church's teaching and practice with regard to the indissolubility of marriage. This has just been consistent, casting the synod — which was to be on the family, directed in a positive way on family life — suggesting that the main purpose of the synod would be to permit those who are in irregular unions to receive the sacraments of penance and holy communion, which is not possible. If someone is bound to a prior marriage which has not been declared null, and is living as husband or wife with someone else. That's a public state of sin and therefore the person cannot receive holy communion or go to the sacrament of penance until the matter is resolved.
But that's been — all along this keeps coming back, and I see more clearly than ever that that's how the synod is. And certainly the media has picked up on this — very much so.
BFN: To the question of how that's being done, presumably the pope was the one who asked Cardinal Kasper to frame the synod. Are you saying that [the pope] is the one who is manipulating these proceedings?
CB: The pope has never said openly what his position is on the matter and people conjecture that because of the fact that he asked Cardinal Kasper — who was well known to have these views for many, many years — to speak to the cardinals and has permitted Cardinal Kasper to publish his presentation in five different languages and to travel around advancing his position on the matter, and then even recently to publicly claim that he's speaking for the pope and there's no correction of this.
I can't speak for the pope and I can't say what his position is on this, but the lack of clarity about the matter has certainly done a lot of harm.
BFN: Would it be inappropriate for the pope to do that? To structure the conversation in such a way that it is consistent with his thinking?
CB: According to my understanding of the church's teaching and discipline, no it wouldn't be correct.
BFN: I did a story a while back reporting on a conversation that sources relayed to me between an LGBT activist and Cardinal Müller. In that conversation, the activist apparently asked Müller about the possibility of the church possibly accepting some forms of civil unions, based on some of the comments that the pope had made and some of the positions he was understood to have taken while he was the president of the bishops conference of Argentina. Müller reportedly responded that [that decision] wasn't up to the pope, it was up to "us," referring to the curia. In that thinking about how these kinds of church teachings are made, can you explain to an outsider what the relationship is between this kind of conversation and the pope's personal thinking?
CB: Well I suppose the simplest way to put it is that all of us who serve the church are at the service of the truth: the truth that Christ teaches us in the church. And the pope more than anyone else, as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth. And so the cardinal is quite correct that the pope is not free to change the church's teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other truth of the faith. On the contrary, his work is to teach these truths and to insist on the discipline which reflects the truths in practice.
BFN: It sounds like there's a tension, what we're seeing play out in this [synod]. It sounds like you're saying there are some people who deliberately want to change teaching. Like the people who are supportive of some of the positions that were articulated in the Relatio are saying that they're trying to balance the pastoral need to find space for people who are living outside what the church teaches is the appropriate lifestyle, to find a way pastorally to incorporate them into the community and to bring them more in line.
You've used very strong words about homosexuality; in a recent interview you say again that homosexual acts are always wrong and evil. Is there any middle ground, any way to make space for LGBT people inside the church while also adhering to church teaching?
CB: Well the church doesn't exclude anyone who's of good will, even if the person is suffering from same-sex attraction or even acting on that attraction. But at the same time out of her love for the person who's involved in sinful acts, she calls the person to conversion, in a loving way, but obviously, like a father or mother in a family, in a firm way for the person's own good.
There never can be in the Catholic Church a difference between doctrine and practice. In other words, you can't have a doctrine that teaches one thing and a practice which does something differently. If people don't accept the church's teaching on these matters than they're not thinking with the church and they need to examine themselves on that and correct their thinking or leave the church if they absolutely can't accept what the church teaches. They're certainly not free to change the teaching of the church to suit their own ideas.
BFN: But as I read the Relatio — and again I'm reading this as a layperson — it seems like what they're saying is [trying to establish] a welcoming tone. While not changing the teaching, they're also trying to not make the primary point of contact be a fight over these lifestyle choices. While holding up that the ideal remains matrimony, they're not going to be pushed out and harassed by virtue of not being in that arrangement.
CB: The point is that for the church, moral teaching is never a matter of ideals. They're understood to be real commands that we're meant to put into practice. All of us are sinners and we have to undergo a daily conversion to live according to the moral truth, but it remains for us always compelling. It's not just an ideal that we hold out there, that, "It would be nice if it were this way, but I can't do it." No, we're called to conform ourselves to those truths.
That's the difficulty with the Relatio, which is not well expressed, and does not have a good foundation neither in the sacred scriptures nor in the church's perennial teachings, and also uses language which can be very confusing.
One of the confusions is that it confuses the person with the sinful acts. In other words, it tries to say that if the church teaches that these acts are sinful that somehow they are turning on the people and driving them away from the church. Well, if the individuals involved are sincere and want to live the truth of moral law, the church is always ready to help. Even if someone sins repeatedly, the church always stands ready to help them begin again. But the truth of the moral law remains and it is compelling. It's for now, it's for me, it's not something out there, some ideal out there that would be nice to realize but it doesn't compel me.
BFN: I should ask you about the reports that you're being removed from the Signatura. What message is that sending? Do you think you are being removed in part because of how outspoken you have been on these issues?
Cardinal Burke: The difficulty — I know about all the reports, obviously. I've not received an official transfer yet. Obviously, these matters depend on official acts. I mean, I can be told that i'm going to be transferred to a new position but until I have a letter of transfer in my hand it's difficult for me to speak about it. I'm not free to comment on why I think this may be going to happen.
BFN: Have you been told that you will be transferred?
BFN: You're obviously a very well respected person. That must be disappointing.
CB: Well, I have to say, the area in which I work is an area for which I'm prepared and I've tried to give very good service. I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it. On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we're given. And so I trust that by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that's what's in the end most important. And even though I would have liked to have continued to work in the Apostolic Signatura, I'll give myself to whatever is the new work that I'm assigned to...
BFN: And that is as the chancellor to the order of Malta, is that right?
CB: It's called the patron of the sovereign military order of Malta, that's right.
BFN: So where are we now? As I understand it, the final draft of the Relatio is expected later today and it will be voted on tomorrow, is that right?
CB: It's scheduled to be read to us tomorrow morning and then there's to be discussion and the final vote is tomorrow afternoon.
CB: I only know the revisions that were suggested by the small group to which I belonged, I haven't seen the other ones, they were all delivered yesterday and were studied yesterday afternoon and today for the revision of the text. From the reports which were published, the summary reports, I believe that there was a rather thorough revision.
BFN: On this final stretch, you have very well respected doctrinal experts like Cardinal Wuerl on [the Relatio] writing committee. Do you have confidence in them going forward?
CB: I trust that they will produce a worthy document. I must say I was shocked by what I heard on Monday morning, which was presented by a very reputable cardinal, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Budapest. So you can imagine I'm a little shaken by that, my trust is a little bit shaken, but I am hoping that we won't have a repeat of that.
BFN: All right, sir, I very much appreciate you making the time, I know you haven't spoken with a lot of secular outlets, so I am really honored that you'd be willing to do that for us.
CB: You're welcome. Goodbye, and God bless you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and to protect the identity of a source.