Church teaching on Communion cannot be changed, says Cardinal Burke
The cardinal said that the Church’s constant teaching and practice admit no exceptions
Cardinal Raymond Burke has given a new interview, in which he says that the Church’s teaching against Communion for the remarried cannot change.
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo of Eternal World Television Network, Cardinal Burke was asked to comment on John Paul’s document Familiaris Consortio, which states: “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.
“This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’”
Cardinal Burke, a canon lawyer and former head of the Vatican’s supreme court, told Arroyo: “Exactly what Pope St John Paul II is what the Church has always taught and practised, and my concern is that Amoris Laetitia seems in some way to permit an interpretation which leads to a practice which contradicts the constant practice of the Church. And that simply is a source of the gravest concern for me.
“In my judgment, what needs to happen is that the faithful know that whatever is written in Amoris Laetitia cannot change what St John Paul II set forth in Familaris Consortio, because what was set forth is the constant teaching and practice of the Church, and therefore it is magisterial.”
Cardinal Burke is one of four cardinals who privately asked the Pope to reaffirm the validity of Church teaching on the sacraments and the moral law. After the Pope declined to reply, the cardinals published their appeal, which took the form of questions, known as “dubia”.
The Pope’s advisor Fr Antonio Spadaro has said recently, on the subject of the dubia, that the Pope would only reply to “sincere” questions, rather than ones aiming to create divisions. Cardinal Burke said he was offended by Fr Spadaro’s implication. “Popes have always, all along the centuries – I’m a student of the Church’s discipline – it is the role of the Pope, as the pastor of the universal Church, as the guardian of the unity of the bishops and of the whole body of Christ, to respond to such questions. And to suggest that posing these questions is a sign of insincerity is deeply offensive. I can assure you that for myself, and I know the other cardinals involved, we wouldn’t raise the questions unless we had the deepest and most sincere concern for the Church herself and for the individual members, the faithful.”
He added that the matter was especially urgent because “as long as this continues the division will only grow, and of course the fruit of division is error, and here we’re talking about the salvation of souls – people being led into error in matters which have to do with their eternal salvation.”
Cardinal Burke also told Arroyo that, rather than being divisive, the questions aimed to heal the existing divisions. “Everywhere I go, many faithful – the priests and bishops and lay faithful to whom I speak – are in a state of very serious confusion about this. Priests tell me that one priest is telling the faithful one thing in Confession, another priest another thing.” The Pope could only resolve the matter by confirming the Church’s teaching, he said.
Fr Spadaro has also claimed that the cardinals were, in effect, answered by the Pope’s approval of guidelines in the diocese of Buenos Aires. But Cardinal Burke said that, while this may be the Pope’s “personal opinion”, “the question can only be answered in terms of what the Church has always taught and practised.”
Cardinal Burke told Arroyo: “The problem is that to engage in sexual union with someone who’s not your spouse is a grave sin, and to live in such a state publicly means that one cannot have access to the sacraments because he or she is not living according to the truth of Christ, and there’s no way that the Church can give permission for someone to do something which Christ himself does not give us permission to do.”
He added that the Church’s teaching on Communion for the remarried does not admit of any exceptions. “No matter what the complexities of the situation may be, the party in question, the member of the faithful in question, will either rectify the irregular moral situation in which he finds himself, and thereby be able to receive the sacraments, or until he is able to rectify the situation, will not present himself to receive the sacraments.
“There can’t be any exception, because if it’s always and everywhere wrong to engage in the conjugal act with someone who is not your spouse, then if you do that and live in that way in a habitual manner, you simply are in a condition in which you, with the help of the Church, with the help of God’s grace, you need to set your life in order, and therefore begin to be able to approach again to receive Christ in the sacraments.” It was the Church’s role, the cardinal said, to accompany someone in that process.
The four cardinals have been supported by others, including Cardinal Paul Cordes. Asked whether there were more who had not come forward, Cardinal Burke said there were, but went on: “I don’t want to get into this business of the numbers. We have to remember: the criterion here is the truth. There have been cases – take for example the case of Henry VIII, and his desire to be able to enter a second marriage without having his first marriage declared null. All the bishops of England except St John Fisher went along with the error, but St John Fisher is the saint because he defended the truth.
“And all of us in the Church who are cardinals, bishops, we have a responsibility to defend the truth. Whether we seem to be numerous or we seem to be very true doesn’t really make a difference.”
Cardinal Burke was also asked if hiys previous suggestion, that it might be necessary to issue a formal correction of the Pope, still stands. “Of course it does,” the cardinal replied. “It’s a standard instrument in the Church for addressing such a situation in the Church.”