Why We Need Cardinal Burke
I logged into Facebook the other day and saw that a number of friends had linked to an interview given by Cardinal Raymond Burke. Cardinal Burke has been painted - whether fittingly or not - as the opposition to Pope Francis, especially in matters related to the Synod on the Family.
If you do a quick Google search for "Cardinal Burke," you'll see what has rankled not a few readers. The teaser line for the interview is certainly provocative. Cardinal Raymond Burke: Gays, remarried Catholics, murderers are all the same.
Well, if that isn't going to get you to click on the story, I don't know what will.
It is within the context of a somewhat lengthy interview that this exchange occurred:
LSN: Among the viewpoints of Cardinal Kasper and, more recently, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, and others, was the consideration that “faithful” homosexuals, “remarried” divorcees and non-married couples show qualities of self-sacrifice, generosity and dedication that cannot be ignored. But through their choice of lifestyle, they are in what must be seen by outsiders as an objective state of mortal sin: a chosen and prolonged state of mortal sin. Could you remind us of the Church’s teaching on the value and merit of prayer and good actions in this state?
CB: If you are living publicly in a state of mortal sin there isn't any good act that you can perform that justifies that situation: the person remains in grave sin. We believe that God created everyone good, and that God wants the salvation of all men, but that can only come about by conversion of life. And so we have to call people who are living in these gravely sinful situations to conversion. And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.
LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?
CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…Theologically, I think one could ask the Cardinal for some clarification. For men and women living in a state of mortal sin, Church teaching is that they are cut off from charity. That is, they are severed from sanctifying grace. Yet, this does not corrupt human nature and some good remains still within them. This leads Thomas to say, "it is evident that unbelievers cannot do those good works which proceed from grace, viz. meritorious works; yet they can, to a certain extent, do those good works for which the good of nature suffices." (IIa-IIae Q. 10, A4).
Thomas does not deny that unbelief (infidelis) is sinful, but I don't know that he'd quite agree with the Cardinal that "there isn't any good act that you can perform that justifies the situation." If the situation refers to "meriting God's grace" then he's right. But he would have to include this to all of us who, at any moment, are in a state of mortal sin...and given a strict application of Church's understanding of sin, that'd be a lot of people. On the other hand, it would seem something of an overstatement to say that they can't do any good act if this is referred to other matters. Again, as Thomas said,
Hence it does not follow that they sin in everything they do; but whenever they do anything out of their unbelief (ex infidelitate), then they sin. For even as one who has the faith, can commit an actual sin, venial or even mortal, which he does not refer to the end of faith, so too, an unbeliever can do a good deed in a matter which he does not refer to the end of his unbelief.To my mind, likening gays and remarried Catholics to "the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people" is hyperbole. A murderer is guilty of murder, but this doesn't make every single act of his null and void of goodness. His acts may not be paving his way to heaven - because he's not in a state of grace - but he can still do things that are good for the community, for friends, etc.. So it may be true that, qua mortal sin, nothing can justify a person (nor could any act done out of presumption, as it is a sin against hope). But this is not the same thing as justifying a person's work toward the common good, for instance, and I think we need to be clear on this.
This quibble aside, my strong claim is this: The Church Needs Cardinal Burke.
The Church needs the Cardinal because we need disciples - women and men - to speak out and dissent when they feel as though something vital appears to be missing from the discourse. Pope Francis explicitly encouraged disagreement at the Synod of Bishops last year. We may not agree, or like, what a dissenting voice has to say but we must listen to them. Otherwise we risk becoming a dictatorship, a totalitarian state and not a living Body.
I find it completely dismaying how quickly people have piled upon the Cardinal for speaking out in a heartfelt defense of the Church. He has given his life to the Church as a disciple of Jesus and he clearly and sincerely believes that current approaches are less-than-faithful to the Tradition. Shame on us, then, if we right him off in the name of political expedience or because his words do not mesh cleanly with our agendas.
If we do not want the Church to devolve into some totalitarian state that reflects the whim of any current age, we need courageous persons to speak out and challenge us to re-examine our presuppositions and premises. It may not be easy, or painless, but it's vitally necessary. I may not agree with the Cardinal's simile, or I may have questions about his use of "good," but I certainly take his call seriously.
We need the Cardinal if we want to continue in the project that is the Church. We sin gravely if we are so presumptuous as to believe that today we hold an illusion-free view of reality to which the entire Church needs to conform itself. I am grateful that the Church does not accede to every whim or notion of the Academy. Not, mind you, because I am opposed to the Academy but because I regard friction and disagreement as a sign of vitality. The fact that people dissent, and disagree, should read as a bunch of cranky geriatrics who've fallen out of touch (as I read in a Facebook post). We should read it as a sign that people are still committed to the pilgrimage of the Church and love it, and the people, enough to challenge us to remain faithful to our mission as disciples. The way we live this mission cannot be dictated by trendy fashion but must, in every era, be discerned so as to stay in communion with one another and in companionship with the Lord.
The Church was born in a plurality of tongues, a host of voices inspired by the one Spirit at Pentecost. Many languages and tongues proclaimed the wonders of God's work that morning, and while some were amazed, others sneered and attributed the event to "new wine" (Acts 2:5-13). We need the Cardinal to help us remain honest, to chasten drive toward "progress," especially if this drive is unreflected and poorly discerned. We betray our calling to be the Church if we glibly dismiss any of our sisters or brothers are irrelevant, or atavistic, or stodgy. We are at our worst when we can no longer enter into any sort of dialogue, any appreciation of another's position, and resort to label-and-dismiss tactics that bring us neither to mutual understand and reconciliation. We owe it to ourselves to listen carefully, disagree when necessary, and do what we can to detect the strains of the Spirit that binds us together as on Body in Christ.