Cardinal Burke’s Error on Truth and Authority

Catholic News Agency reports: What Cardinal Burke really said about ‘resisting’ Pope Francis.

“I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” Cardinal Burke told CNA Feb. 9.

“No authority can absolve me from that responsibility, and, therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist, in fidelity to my responsibility before God.”

First error: discipline is not doctrine

Cardinal Burke errs by treating discipline as if it were the same as doctrine. Discipline is never irreformable. All disciplines are changeable and dispensable. The entire set of Old Testament disciplines, though they were established by divine revelation, have passed away (but the lessons they teach remain forever). The entire set of New Testament disciplines will eventually pass away, at the time of the general Resurrection. And for the time being, all disciplines are changeable.

Second error: who has authority over discipline?

The Church has the authority to change discipline. And Cardinal Burke does not have the role within the Church to decide whether or not discipline changes, and in what way it might change. The Roman Pontiff does have the authority to decide matters of discipline and to make changes. Vatican II changed the discipline of the Mass to the vernacular. Pope Saint John Paul II swept away the entire code of Canon Law (1917) and replaced it with the radically different 1983 Code of Canon law. Popes have the authority to change the discipline on who may receive Communion.

Cardinal Burke has no such authority over discipline. So his public assertion that he will resist any change to discipline with which he disagrees, “if any authority, even the highest authority,” that is, even the authority of the Pope, were to change it, such an assertion is schismatic. Burke is rebelling against the authority of the Roman Pontiff and substituting his own pretended authority.

His assertion that “No authority can absolve me from that responsibility” is false. Any Roman Pontiff can remove a Cardinal or Bishop from his authority in the Church. Again, this is a schismatic assertion. Burke does not have an authority directly from God to act according to his own preferences for discipline, apart from or in contradiction to the authority of the Pope.

Third error: personal infallibility

No human person on earth is personally infallible, not even the Roman Pontiff. Thus, any Pope’s personal theological opinions can err. But a Pope can teach infallibly, whenever his teaching as an act of the Magisterium meets all of the conditions for infallibility. But not so for Cardinals. Cardinal Burke is not able to teach infallibly. Yet he speaks as if his understanding of truth cannot be mistaken, and is not subject to correction by the higher authority of the Pope. This position taken by Burke contradicts the teaching of the Magisterium in Unam Sanctam.

Many conservative papal critics are making the same mistake. They assume that their understanding of the teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium cannot err. They assume that the majority opinion in the conservative Catholic subculture cannot err. They refuse to acknowledge the role of each and every Roman Pontiff, liberal or conservative, to teach and correct every other person in the Church on earth. It is as if they were infallible in their understanding of Catholic teaching.

Fourth error: responsibility before God

Cardinal Burke errs by implying that he has a duty and responsibility before God to resist “any authority, even the highest authority,” meaning the Roman Pontiff. Cardinals have the duty and responsibility before God to assist the Roman Pontiff in exercising his Apostolic authority. They do not have a separate authority, duty, or responsibility under which they would judge the decisions of the Roman Pontiff on doctrine and discipline, and resist or oppose him.

Faithful Roman Catholics may disagree with the decisions of any Roman Pontiff on discipline. They may disagree, to a limited extent, with his non-infallible teachings. But they are never permitted to resist or oppose the authority of the Pope, nor to substitute their judgment for his, as if they could not possibly err or be in need of correction.

Cardinal Burke is essentially already in a state of schism. He is conservative, but not faithful. He has sinned gravely and publicly through the above-stated errors. For my part, I will always defend and support the current Roman Pontiff, liberal or conservative, whether or not I agree with his personal opinions, decisions on discipline, or non-infallible teachings.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Cardinal Burke’s Error on Truth and Authority

  1. Matt Z. says:

    It seems like you are right. The Cardinal should not have added the word “discipline.” I do understand the Cardinals hypothetical question and answer of if the Pope were to state something contrary to dogma, the Cardinal would have to defend the truth. But as you have said many times, the Pope cannot teach heresy in any way. But the question was again, just hypothetical. It’s hard pressed to say Cardinal Burke is in a state of schism. I think this article is more to show the Cardinals love for the doctrine’s and dogma’s of our Catholic faith. You never know, Cardinal Burke may be the next Pope!

  2. Francisco says:

    Cardinal Burke acts as if he knows better than the Pope, yet doesn’t know the distinction between dogma and discipline, by treating discipline at the same level of dogma. Even dogmas are not to be understood superficially, so in order to understand them better, the Church teaching on the subject develops and are understood more in depth with time and the Pope has the authority to, under the protection of the Holy Spirit, teach them (Luke 22:32). Fox example the dogma of “There is No Salvation Outside the Church” is explained in depth by Pope St. John Paul II in “All Salvation Comes Through Christ” or Redentoris Missio. Also, by the way this Cardinal is expressing in the above linked article, he is like warning the Pope, not to even change a discipline that he may not like. That’s not the way a true humble person reacts, and even worst, publicly as to cause scandal, so no, I don’t think he would be even close to become a Pope for God only exalts the humble (Luke 1:52).

    “It arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” — Fifth Lateran Council

    “This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine.” — First Vatican Council

    “8. But this authority, even though it may be given to a man, and may be exercised by a man, is not human, but rather divine [power], having been given by the divine mouth [of Christ] to Peter, and to him as well as to his successors, by [Christ] Himself, [that is, to him] whom He had disclosed to be the firm rock, just as the Lord said to Peter himself: “Whatever you shall bind,” [Matthew 16:19] etc. Therefore, whoever resists this authority, such as it has been ordain by God, resists the ordination of God. [Romans 13:2]” ….

    9. Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation. – Unam Sanctam

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