Pope Francis and Cardinal Raymond Burke have a number of things in common. Both are advocates of popular piety: the Pope went all the way to Mexico chiefly to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Cardinal Burke founded a Guadalupe shrine in his former diocese of La Crosse. Both have roots in Catholic immigrant communities: the Pope is the son of Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires, while Cardinal Burke grew up in a Wisconsin farming family “imbued with Irish spirituality”. And both believe that, as Cardinal Burke puts it, “the bishop should be in the midst of the faithful”.
But these two figures now find themselves on opposite sides of a seemingly unbridgeable chasm. It is a strange twist in Cardinal Burke’s career: consecrated Bishop of La Crosse in 1994 and then Archbishop of St Louis in 2003, he became renowned as one of the finest canon lawyers in the Church. Not so long ago, few cardinals seemed more “establishment” than the head of the Vatican’s top court – as Cardinal Burke was until 2014, when Pope Francis moved him to a relatively ceremonial role as patron of the Order of Malta.
The Pope said it was nothing personal; but it came after Cardinal Burke expressed concern about the direction of the Church, and said that, from his perspective as a canonist, mooted changes to Communion discipline were “impossible” to reconcile with “the words of our Lord himself” on marriage and divorce.
But being demoted did not silence Cardinal Burke. Friends say he took the change serenely, as a chance to give more time to canon law and to his crammed schedule of travelling and speaking. It might be added that, without a role in the Vatican, Cardinal Burke is freer to speak. And his comment last month in an interview with National Catholic Register, that it might be necessary to “correct” the Pope, has raised the stakes.
In Hope for the World, Cardinal Burke’s book-length interview with Guillaume d’Alençon, two themes come across strongly. One is the cardinal’s emphasis on a personal relationship with God. “Truth and meaning are found only in the Lord and in a relationship with Him,” he says. That friendship with God, he implies, is reflected in the loving relationships on earth: he speaks with great warmth of the priests, nuns and family who influenced his vocation, the children he taught in his early years as a schoolteacher, his colleagues from his days at the Curia.
The other theme is his suspicion of innovative, disruptive trends in Catholic thought. In 1968, he says, “There was a widespread feeling that the whole life of the Church before the Council was worthless, that it was necessary to create a new Church.” For Cardinal Burke, that is all wrong: the capital-T Tradition of the Church is exactly where to start looking for answers.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection