Thursday, July 29, 2021

A reply to JD Flynn's attack on Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke in London, celebrating Mass for the
Latin Mass Society in Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane 2019 (photograph by John Aron).

Cross-posted from Rorate Caeli.

In the Pillar, JD Flynn criticises ‘the siren voices calling for disobedience, or casting into doubt the authority of the Vicar of Christ’. He has earlier quoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and Bishop Robertus Mutsaerts, but he leaves it to his readers to connect what he quotes them as saying with ‘calls for disobedience’ and ‘casting into doubt the authority of the Vicar of Christ’. This seems on the face of it a serious injustice, and a failure to give these individuals the respect due to their office and indeed to every Catholic, who has a right to his good name: see Canon 220.

For readers such as myself to be expected to examine the quoted remarks and look for possible support of these serious allegations is ridiculous and an invitation to uncharity. Flynn does not even give us a clue which of the three is implicated in these two alleged offences. Indeed, it might even be that Flynn would, if challenged, refer us instead to the unnamed others he vaguely refers to in the course of the article. However, the insinuation remains, it is serious, and it should be withdrawn.

To illustrate, a reasonable person reading this article would conclude that ‘casting into doubt the authority of the Vicar of Christ’ is a reference to the remarks quoted from Cardinal Burke in the article:

“Can the Roman Pontiff juridically abrogate the UA?” Burke asked.

The cardinal concluded in the negative, positing that the pope’s authority does not allow him “to eradicate a liturgical discipline which has been alive in the Church since the time of Pope Gregory the Great and even earlier.”

This is then linked to an interpretation of His Excellency’s remarks by a CNA author. Flynn does not express an opinion as the truth of this interpretation, and yet feels justified to make his insinuation.

In point of fact, Cardinal Burke’s remarks are not a denial of the authority of the Papacy, but a comment about what that authority means. I would be interested to know if Flynn would regard as a rejection of the authority of the Vicar of Christ these words of the then sitting Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, one Joseph Ratzinger (The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000)):

After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. … The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not “manufactured” by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity.... The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.

It is a commonplace among theologians that the power of the Vicar of Christ is not arbitrary or despotic, but given for a specific purpose, a purpose which conditions the matters which it governs and also the way it can be used. The Church’s own tradition of Canon law allows for the fact that some practices are simply not uprooted by legislation against them and become legitimate with the passage of time (Canon 24.2); that bishops can lift universal disciplinary obligations from those under their charge for the good of souls (Canon 87.1); and that, in the final analysis, the salvation of souls is the supreme law (Canon 1752).

The power of the Vicar of Christ must be understood within this context, and not the context of a modern, positivist conception of the law, which would make the Pope into a dictator or even a slave-master. When Cardinal Burke directs our attention to the correct context, he is doing a service to all who love and respect the Office of the Papacy.

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  1. Thank you for this defense of Cardinal Burke, and others. It is surprising how often it is permitted or even encouraged to voice comments of dissent. However, we are not allowed a similar liberty in favor of the longstanding traditions and practices of our Church.

  2. Neither Caesar nor Pharoah but Petrus.

    1. What on earth do you mean? Francis is not acting as 'Petrus' but rather imposing HIS will as did Caesar & Pharoah. A motu proprio is NOT a definition of Faith & therefore cannot be 'ex cathedra' & therefore cannot be infallible.

  3. The Pope is not an Absolute Monarch. He is the guardian of Tradition and the Deposit of Faith, not it's owner. If the Holy Father acts lawfully within his powers, we are bound to obey him. But if he acts Ultra Vires, we have the right and duty to rebuke and correct him, as St Thomas Aquinas and St Robert Bellarmine both affirmed.