Contra Cardinal Burke on the Responsa ad Dubia

Here is the article at LifeSiteNews, which quotes an interview with Burke in which he discusses Traditionis Custodes (TC) and the later Responsa ad Dubia (RD) affecting implementation of TC. I must strongly disagree with several of Cardinal Burke’s claims.

1. Burke claims that the RD are only binding insofar as they are coherent with the rule of law and with the doctrine and discipline of the Church. The problem with this claim is that it leaves the faithful free to disobey almost any decision or ruling of the authority of the Apostolic See, merely because they opine that a decision or ruling is, in their private opinion, incoherent or “contrary to the good order of the Church” or “contrary to reason”. In this way, the opinions and misunderstandings of fallen sinners are placed above the authority of Christ exercised by Peter and his successors. Faith is then subjugated, not only to reason, but to misunderstandings and false theological arguments spread among the faithful by persons who oppose Church authority for a variety of reasons.

To the contrary, the faithful are to cooperate with the mind and will of the Roman Pontiffs as well as the Apostolic See more generally, and their individual local ordinaries (Bishops). Instead of seeking excuses to disobey, whenever one does not like a ruling or decision, the faithful should seek to know and do the will of the Roman Pontiff for the Church in both doctrine and discipline.

Lumen Gentium 25: “For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock.

“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

While the above passage speaks mainly of teachings on faith and morals (doctrine), the same applies to the decisions and judgments of the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops on discipline. For the Keys of Saint Peter are two: the one Key over doctrine and the other Key over discipline. That is why two keys are depicted on the Vatican flag, and on the garments of the Roman Pontiff. These are the two swords of the Church (Lk 22:38).

Therefore, the faithful cannot exempt themselves from the authority of the Church by means of an opinion from fallen sinners, who can err even gravely and even on matters of doctrine and discipline.

2. Burke claims that this disobedience to the authority of the Apostolic See is necessary, because otherwise obedience to the Church makes “the law an arbitrary tool in the hands of individuals advancing a particular ideology or agenda.” He speaks as if the Roman Pontiff and his Apostolic See can go astray gravely in doctrine or discipline. But this is contrary to the ancient and constant teaching of the Church, confirmed by Vatican I, that the Apostolic See remains always unblemished, that is, the See of Peter is free from every grave error on doctrine and discipline.

Since the Apostolic See cannot err gravely, even in a non-infallible decision of doctrine or discipline, the faithful have an obligation to believe or to follow that doctrine or discipline. Now it is true that what is non-infallible can err, but only to a limited extent. For the Church is indefectible, and this indefectibility is established by the indefectibility of the Roman Pontiff, of his See, and of the body of Bishops when they teach or rule with the Roman Pontiff. And this indefectibility keeps these teachings and ruling free from every grave error. Therefore, the extent to which the faithful can licitly disagree with a decision of doctrine or discipline is the same as the extent of possible error. But if a claimed error would be grave if it were really an error, then it is not.

While the faithful can disagree to a limited extent with a decision of doctrine or discipline, they cannot accuse the Roman Pontiff of grave error, of grave failings of faith, or of being an abusive father. All such things are contrary to the dogma of indefectibility, the dogma of the charism of truth and never-failing faith, the dogma that the Apostolic See is unblemished by grave error, and the dogma that “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head” of the one Church. This unity between Christ and the Pope, and this charism of never-failing faith ensure that no Roman Pontiff, whatever personal sins he might commit, whatever limited (less than grave) errors he might make, can never desire, plan, attempt, or succeed in corrupting the Church in doctrine or discipline. Similarly, it is contrary to indefectibility and a never-failing faith for any Roman Pontiff to act as an abusive father in his exercise of the Keys of Saint Peter. For “to this day and forever he [Peter] lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See, which he founded and consecrated with his blood” [Pastor Aeternus, ch. 2, n. 2].

These limits on the errors and sins against faith of the Roman Pontiff and his See make the decisions of the Church on doctrine and discipline binding in a way and to an extent that exceeds that of any merely human government on earth. For the argument of Cardinal Burke that the rule of law has limits, because a government could err gravely and cause grave harm by acting contrary to the common good and contrary to reason, does not apply to the Church, which is the body of Christ, with Christ as Her head, and with the Holy Spirit as Her soul. The Church has never failing charisms that protect Her doctrine and discipline from grave error, thereby protecting Her authority from the type of misuse found often in secular governments and other secular powers.

Burke states: “what the congregation pretends is not only contrary to the good order of the Church but contrary to reason.” But this cannot be true, since the decisions of the CDW in the Responsa ad Dubia are approved by the Roman Pontiff and assist him in implementing his decisions expressed in Traditionis Custodes. The Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error, and this certainly excludes the possibility that the Apostolic See will act contrary to the general good order of the Church and contrary to reason.

Burke goes on to argue against TC and RD by speaking as if this were merely a matter of human rulings and laws, which could err to any extent. There is no expression of faith in the Church and in the work of the Holy Spirit in the Shepherds of the Church in his arguments.

The article itself on this subject then goes on to add other arguments. The LSN article argues that “the December Responsa was written without consulting the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.” What if the RD were in favor of broadening the use of the Latin Mass and the Latin Rites? Then such a complaint would not be made. The CDW acts with the approval and the authority of the Roman Pontiff and his Apostolic See. Therefore, consultation with any person or body is not needed. For this authority is of Christ, who is the Son of God.

Another argument in the article is this:

“And the document has not been published in the Holy See’s official gazette, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. The CDW in 1969 indicated that Responsa are not to be recognized as having official weight until published in the official record of the Church, according to Pentin.”

The reason for that rule from 1969, when electronic means of communication and publication were much more limited than today, is to ensure that a ruling is promulgated to the faithful. A law is not a law until it is promulgated. But the RD has been made very public by the internet, by Catholic new and commentary websites, and in print. Since the ruling of the Apostolic See has been promulgated, it is binding. The ruling will be published in the AAS, but this occurs months or even more than a year later. As long as the faithful know of the ruling from public reliable sources, it is promulgated and therefore binding.

Then the article cites a priest as saying that the decision of the CDW in the RD is only an expression of the thinking and practice of the CDW, and has no legal force. This is contrary to the general principle and binding requirement, even in non-infallible decisions of discipline, that the faithful must accept and cooperate with the decisions of the Apostolic See, and with the “manifest mind and will” of the Roman Pontiff. The CDW speaks and acts under the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and with his explicit approval. So while the RD is not a law or legal ruling, it is binding, in another sense, on the faithful and on the Bishops. Whether a local Bishop can dispense from certain provisions of TC or the RD is up to the Roman Pontiff. He certainly, in general cases, permits such dispensations as does canon law. But the Roman Pontiff can also decide not to permit dispensations from certain decisions. The Roman Pontiff has Supreme Authority over the entire Church on earth, even over the Bishops and all other persons in the Church.


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4 Responses to Contra Cardinal Burke on the Responsa ad Dubia

  1. Dawn says:

    Now is the time to cling to the Pope and the magisterium united with him more than ever so as to not to be lead astray by those who put themselves above the pope. These bishops and priests are not only deceived, but bring down with them many. Many prayers are needed to strengthen and comfort our Pope and for the heretics and schismatics conversion of heart. Truly the prophecy of Akita is being acted out today of bishops accusing bishops. A shameful time indeed. May God have mercy on us all.

  2. guilhermefeitosa024 says:

    ron, what would be the “less serious mistakes” that the Roman pontiff could commit in his non-infallible magisterium? Is there any example of “a mistake that is not serious”

    • Ron Conte says:

      Limbo as a third final destination that is neither heaven nor hell might be an example of an error in the non-infallible magisterium. This was never taught universally, nor definitively, but arguable was a non-infallible teaching mentioned occasionally.

      It is possible that Amoris Laetitia contains some non-infallible less-than-grave errors, in the sense of presenting doctrine in a manner that is somewhat obscure or ambiguous.

      One might argue with the definition of the Communion of the Saints used by Francis, though I happen to think it is consistent with the teaching of the Church, even if it is a broader than usual use of the term.

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