Cardinal Burke recently gave a candid interview in which he highlights his clear concern regarding the modernist attack on Catholic faith. The bold highlights are my own.
Q. Your Eminence, you grew up before the Second Vatican Council. How do you remember those times?
A. I grew up in a very beautiful time in the Church, in which we were carefully instructed in the faith, both at home and in the Catholic school, especially with the Baltimore Catechism. I remember the great beauty of the Sacred Liturgy, even in our little farming town, with beautiful Masses. And then, I’m of course most grateful for my parents who gave me a very sound up-bringing in how to live as a Catholic. So they were beautiful years.
Q. A friend of mine who was born after the Council used to say, “Not everything was good in the old days, but everything was better.” What do you think about this?
A. Well, we have to live in whatever time the Lord gives us. Certainly, I have very good memories of growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I think what is most important is that we appreciate the organic nature of our Catholic Faith and appreciate the Tradition to which we belong and by which the Faith has come to us.
Q. Did you embrace the big changes after the Council with enthusiasm?
A. What happened soon after the Council – I was in the minor seminary at that time, and we followed what was happening at the Council – but the experience after the Council was so strong and even in some cases violent, that I have to say that, even as a young man, I began to question some things – whether this was really what was intended by the Council – because I saw many beautiful things that were in the Church suddenly no longer present and even considered no longer beautiful. I think, for instance, of the great tradition of Gregorian Chant or the use of Latin in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Then also, of course, the so-called ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ influenced other areas – for instance, the moral life, the teaching of the Faith – and then we saw so many priest abandoning their priestly ministry, so many religious sisters abandoning religious life. So, there were definitely aspects about the post-conciliar period that raised questions.
Q. You were ordained a priest in 1975. Did you think that something in the Church had gone wrong?
A. Yes, I believe so. In some way, we lost a strong sense of the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy and, therefore, of the priestly office and ministry in the Church. I have to say, I was so strongly raised in the Faith, and had such a strong understanding of vocation, that I never could refuse to do what Our Lord was asking. But I saw that there was something that had definitely gone wrong. I witnessed, for instance, as a young priest the emptiness of the catachesis. The catechetical texts were so poor. Then I witnessed the liturgical experimentations – some of which I just don’t even want to remember – the loss of the devotional life, the attendance at Sunday Mass began to steadily decrease: all of those were signs to me that something had gone wrong.
On the Two Forms of Holy Mass
Q. Would you have imagined in 1975 that, one day, you would offer Mass in the rite that was abandoned for the sake of renewal?
A. No, I would not have imagined it. Although, I also have to say that I find it very normal, because it was such a beautiful rite, and that the Church recovered it seems to me to be a very healthy sign. But, at the time, I must say that the liturgical reform in particular was very radical and, as I said before, even violent, and so the the thought of a restoration didn’t seem possible, really. But, thanks be to God, it happened.
Q. Juridically, the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin Mass are the same rite. Is this also your factual experience when you celebrate a Pontifical High Mass in the new or the old rite?
A. Yes, I understand that they are the same rite, and I believe that, when the so-called New Rite or the Ordinary Form is celebrated with great care and with a strong sense that the Holy Liturgy is the action of God, one can see more clearly the unity of the two forms of the same rite. On the other hand, I do hope that – with time – some of the elements which unwisely were removed from the rite of the Mass, which has now become the Ordinary Form, could be restored, because the difference between the two forms is very stark.
Q. In what sense?
A. The rich articulation of the Extraordinary Form, all of which is always pointing to the theocentric nature of the liturgy, is practically diminished to the lowest possible degree in the Ordinary Form.
On the 2014 Synod
Q. The Synod on the Family has been a shock and sometimes even a scandal, especially for young Catholic families who are the future of the Church. Do they have reasons to worry?
A. Yes, they do. I think that the report that was given at the mid-point of the session of the Synod, which just ended October 18th, is perhaps one of the most shocking public documents of the Church that I could imagine. And, so, it is a cause for very serious alarm and it’s especially important that good Catholic families who are living the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony rededicate themselves to a sound married life and that also they use whatever occasions they have to give witness to the beauty of the truth about marriage which they are experiencing daily in their married life.
Q. High-ranking prelates keep giving the impression that “progress” in the Church lays in promoting the gay agenda and divorce ideology. Do they believe that these things will lead to a new springtime in the Church?
A. I don’t know how they could believe such a thing, because, how could it be that, for instance, divorce – which the Pastoral Constitution on the Church Gaudium et Spes called a plague in society – how could it be that the promotion of homosexual acts, which are intrinsically evil, how could any good come from either? And, in fact, what we witness is that both result in a destruction of society, a breakdown of the family, the breakdown of the fiber of society, and, of course, in the case of unnatural acts, the corruption of human sexuality which is essentially ordered to marriage and to the procreation of children.
Q. Do you think that the main problem in vast territories of the Church is the lack of Catholic families and especially the lack of Catholic children? Should that not have been the focus of the Synod?
A. I believe so, very much so. The Church depends on sound Catholic family life, and it depends on sound Catholic families . I do believe that, where the Church is suffering most, there also marriage and family life is suffering. We see that when in marriage couples are not generous in bringing new human life into the world, their own marriages diminish, as well as society itself. We witness in many countries that the local population, which in many cases would be Christian, is disappearing because the birthrate is so low. And some of these places – for instance, where there is also a strong presence of individuals who belong to Islam – we find that the Muslim life is taking over in countries which were formerly Christian.
On the Society of St. Pius X
Q. In many parts of Western Europe and the U.S., the only parishes who still have children belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, while whole dioceses are deserted. Do the bishops take notice of this?
A. I would imagine so. I do not have direct experience of what you are describing. From my own time as bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin and as archbishop of Saint Louis, Missouri, I have heard this said about dioceses in certain European nations where the dioceses are practically unable to continue, yet there is a strong presence of those who belong to the Society of St. Pius X. I cannot help but think that the bishops in those places must take note of it and must reflect upon it.
On Young Catholics
Q. Most practicing Catholics in an average parish in Western Europe and the U.S. are those who were baptized and catechized before the Council. Is the Church in these countries living from her past?
A. I think that my generation, for instance, was blessed to grow up at a time in which there was a strong practice of the Catholic Faith, a strong tradition of participation in Sunday Mass and the Sacred Liturgy, a strong devotional life, a strong teaching of the Faith- But in some way, I believe, we sadly took it for granted, and the same attention was not given to pass on the Faith as we had come to know it to the success of generations. Now what I see it that many young people are hungering and thirsting – and this already for some time – to know the Catholic Faith at its roots and to experience many aspects of the richness of the tradition of the Faith. So I believe that there is a recovery precisely of what had been for a period of time lost or not cared for in a proper manner. I think that now there is a rebirth at work among the young Catholics.
Q. Does the Synod on the Family have any plans to promote marriage and to encourage and support families with many children?
A. I sincerely hope so. I’m not part of the central direction or the group of cardinals and bishops who assist in the organization and direction of the Synod of Bishops. But I would certainly hope so.
On the Kasper Proposal
Q. Many Catholics fear that, in the end, the Synod of Bishops will resort to doublespeak. “Pastoral” reasons are used to de facto change doctrine. Are such fears justified?
A. Yes, they are. In fact, one of the most insidious arguments used at the Synod to promote practices which are contrary to the doctrine of the Faith is the argument that, “We are not touching the doctrine; we believe in marriage as the Church has always believed in it; but we are only making changes in discipline.” But in the Catholic Church, this can never be, because in the Catholic Church, her discipline is always directly related to her teaching. In other words: the discipline is at the service of the truth of the Faith, of life in general in the Catholic Church. And so, you cannot say that you are changing a discipline not having some effect on the doctrine which it protects or safeguards or promotes.
Q. The term “mercy” is used to change Church doctrine and even the New Testament in order to condone sin. Was this dishonest use of the term “mercy” exposed during the Synod?
A. Yes, it was. There were Synod Fathers who spoke about a false sense of mercy which would not take into account the reality of sin. I remember one Synod Father said, “Does sin no longer exist? Do we no longer recognize it?” So, I believe that was very strongly addressed by certain Synod Fathers. The German Protestant – Lutheran – pastor who died during the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, used an interesting analogy. He talked about “costly” grace and “cheap” grace. Well, there is no “cheap” grace. When God’s life is given to us as it is in the Church, it demands of us a new way of life, a daily conversion to Christ, and we know God’s mercy to the degree that we embrace that conversion and strive to turn every day our lives over again to Christ and to overcome our sinfulness and our weaknesses.
Q. Why is the term “mercy” used for adulterers, but not for pedophiles? In other words: Does the media decide when the Church is allowed to apply “mercy” and when not?
A. This, too, is a point that was made during the Synod. Mercy has to do with the person who, for whatever reason, is committing sin. One must always call forth in that person the good – in other words, call that person to be who or she really is: a child of God. But at the same time, one must recognize the sins, whether they be adultery or pedophilia or theft or murder – whatever it may be – as a great evils, as mortal sins and therefore as repellent to us. We can’t accept them. The greatest charity, the greatest mercy that we can show to the sinner is to recognize the evil of the acts which he or she is committing and to call that person to the truth.
On the Power and Authority of the Pope
Q. Do we still have to believe that the Bible is the supreme authority in the Church and cannot be manipulated – not even by bishops or the Pope?
A. Absolutely! The word of Christ is the truth to which we are all called to be obedient and, first and foremost, to which the Holy Father is called to be obedient. Sometime during the Synod, there was reference made to the fullness of the power of the Holy Father, which we call in Latin plenitudo potestatis, giving the sense that the Holy Father could even, for instance, dissolve a valid marriage that had been consummated. And that’s not true. The “fullness of power” is not absolute power. It’s the “fullness of power” to do what Christ commands of us in obedience to Him. So we all follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the Holy Father.
Q. An archbishop recently said, “We obviously follow the Church’s doctrine on the family.” Then he added, “…until the Pope decides otherwise.” Does the Pope have the power to change doctrine?
A. No. This is impossible. We know what the teaching of the Church has been consistently. It was, for instance, expressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical letter Casti connubii. It was expressed by Pope Paul VI in Humanae vitae. It was expressed in a wonderful way by Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris consortio. That teaching is unchanging. The Holy Father gives the service of upholding that teaching and presenting it with a newness and a freshness, but not changing it.
Q. Cardinals are said to wear crimson in order to represent the blood of the martyrs who died for Christ. Except for John Fisher, who was made a cardinal when he already was in jail, no cardinal has ever died for the Faith. What is the reason for this?
A. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. Certainly some cardinals have suffered greatly for the Faith. We think of Cardinal Mindszenty (1892-1975), for example, in Hungary, or we think of Cardinal Stepinac (1898-1960) in what was Yugoslavia. And we think of other cardinals of different periods in the history of the Church who had to suffer greatly to uphold the Faith. Martyrdom can take more than the bloody form. We talk about red martyrdom, but there is also a white martyrdom which involves faithfully teaching the truth of the Faith and upholding it, and perhaps being sent into exile as some cardinals have been, or suffering in other ways. But the important thing for the cardinal is to defend the Faith usque ad effusionem sanguinis – even to the outpouring of blood. So, the cardinal has to do everything he can to defend the Faith, even if it means the shedding of blood. But also all that goes before that.
On Cardinal Burke’s Favorite Things, Fondest Memories, and Fear of Judgment
Q. Your Eminence, a few quick observations: Who is four favorite Saint?
A. Well, the Blessed Mother obviously is the favorite of us all.
Q. That doesn’t count!
A. [Laughs] I also have a great devotion to St.Joseph. But one Saint who has really helped me a great deal during my life, since the time I was a child and in the seminary, is St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Her Little Way continues to be, for me, very helpful in my spiritual life.
Q. What is your favorite prayer?
A. The rosary.
Q. What is your favorite book?
A. I suppose the Catechism doesn’t count. [Laughs]
Q. No, neither does the Bible.
A. I like also very much the writings of Blessed Columba Marmio (1858-1923), spiritual writings, and I’m also fond of the writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979).
Q. What was your greatest moment as a priest?
A. I think my ordination to the priesthood itself. I keep thinking back to that and everything was there, everything has unfolded from there. What I found most beautiful on the priesthood was that, in the first five years of my priesthood, I hade a very intense priestly service in a parish with the Sacrament of Confession, with many confessions, and the celebration – obviously – of the Holy Mass, and then the teaching of the children in the Faith. Those memories – and then, for a brief period of three years, I taught in a Catholic high school – those are really, for me, treasured memories of my priesthood.
Q. Do you fear the Last Judgment?
A. Of course I do. One thinks, for instance, of all the responsibility that was mine, first as a priest, but even more so as a bishop and a cardinal, and it causes one to examine his conscience. I know there are things that I did that I could have done much better, and that causes me to be afraid. But I hope that the Lord will have mercy on me and I pray for that.
Q. Thank you, Your Eminence.
A. You’re welcome.