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Who Said It? Cardinal Burke or Archbishop Lefebvre?

Who Said It? Cardinal Burke or Archbishop Lefebvre?


Cardinal Caffarra [Carlo Caffarra, the late archbishop of Bologna], who was a dear friend of mine, came up to me and he said, what is going on? He said those of us who are defending the church’s teaching and discipline are now called enemies of the pope. And that is symbolic of what happened. Throughout my priesthood, I was always criticized for being too attentive to what the pope was saying. And now I find myself in a situation where I’m called the enemy of the pope, which I am not.

– Cardinal Raymond Burke, “Conversation with Ross Douthat,” New York Times (Nov. 9, 2019)

What better proof could I have wanted that Rome considered my work profitable for the Church and for the good of souls? And now when I am doing the same thing, a work exactly like what I have been doing for thirty years, all of a sudden I am suspended a divinis, and perhaps I shall soon be excommunicated, separated from the Church, a renegade, or what have you! How can that be? Is what I have been doing for thirty years liable also to suspension a divinis?

– Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, “Sermon at the Mass at Lille,” Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, vol. I, ch. 13 (August 29, 1976)

Cardinal Burke’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua

In a recent interview with Catholic journalist Ross Douthat, Cardinal Burke — who is widely regarded as a conservative critic of Francis’s pontificate — offers up a defense of his work in the Catholic Church. Contrary to the vocal claims of the Pope’s supporters, Burke does not regard himself as an enemy of Francis. Rather, he believes that he is upholding orthodox Catholic teaching, such as the indissolubility of marriage. In so doing, Burke acknowledges that he has lost favor under Francis, including being removed from the congregation of bishops and then the Apostolic Signatura. Yet, Burke maintains that he is not attacking the papal office; he is simply preaching the Faith.

As shown above, a number of Burke’s defenses parallel those offered decades ago by Archbishop Lefebvre, founder of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Moreover, consider the following from Cardinal Burke:

The working document [for the Amazonian Synod] doesn’t have doctrinal value. But what if the pope were to put his stamp on that document? People say if you don’t accept that, you’ll be in schism — and I maintain that I would not be in schism because the document contains elements that defect from the apostolic tradition. So my point would be the document is schismatic. I’m not.

Now, here is the Archbishop from his sermon at the 1988 Episcopal Consecrations:

We are not schismatics! . . . On the contrary, it is in order to manifest our attachment to Rome that we are performing this ceremony. It is in order to manifest our attachment to the Eternal Rome, to the Pope, and to all those who have preceded these last popes who, unfortunately since the Second Vatican Council, have thought it their duty to adhere to grievous errors which are demolishing the Church and the Catholic priesthood. 

And again back to Cardinal Burke: 

I haven’t changed. I’m still teaching the same things I always taught and they’re not my ideas. But now suddenly this is perceived as being contrary to the Roman pontiff.

On this very point, these are Lefebvre’s words from the so-called 1974 Declaration:

No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. . . . 

We hold fast, with all our heart and with all our soul, to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to preserve this faith, to Eternal Rome, Mistress of wisdom and truth.

. . . . 

That is why we hold fast to all that has been believed and practiced in the faith, morals, liturgy, teaching of the catechism, formation of the priest and institution of the Church, by the Church of all time; to all these things as codified in those books which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council. This we shall do until such time that the true light of Tradition dissipates the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.

An Unintended Irony

There is an unintended irony accompanying the Cardinal’s words insofar as he has proven, at least in the recent past, to be a critic of both the Archbishop and the SSPX. At a conference given on July 15, 2017, Burke declared that the Society “is in schism since the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four bishops without the mandate of the Roman Pontiff.” He further added, “And so it is not legitimate to attend Mass or to receive the sacraments in a church that’s under the direction of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X.”

While the Cardinal’s misplaced words have already been addressed, it remains unfortunate that he does not grasp the reason behind the episcopal ordinations, namely, to perpetuate the authentic Catholic priesthood and provide valid sacraments according to the traditional Roman Rite to the faithful. In so doing, the ordinations, like the entire priestly work of Archbishop Lefebvre, were carried out for the life of the Church and the good of the Catholic Faith. Is this not how Cardinal Burke understands his own priestly ministry, one which involves standing up for the Faith in the face of heterodoxy, albeit imperfectly?

Strangely, this parallel seems lost as well on Burke’s interlocutor, Ross Douthat, whose November 9, 2019 column sought in part to distinguish Burke’s fidelity to orthodoxy in the face of Pope Francis’s apparent wishes from “the traditionalist quasi-exile pioneered after Vatican II by the Society of Saint Pius X.” Whatever Douthat means by “quasi-exile,” a sensible read of recent ecclesiastical history shows the opposite to be true. Not only has the SSPX safeguarded the traditional Latin Mass and sacramental rites for the whole Church in the face of rabid opposition, but its position that the ancient Roman Rite had never been abrogated was vindicated by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Moreover, the Society’s chapels are open to all Catholics, just as its publishing apostolate, Angelus Press, seeks the inform the wider Church about the destruction wrought by Vatican II and the importance of restoring Catholic Tradition. It is not, as Douthat opines, that Archbishop Lefebvre and the priestly fraternity he founded placed themselves in “quasi-exile” from the Church; it is that so many entrusted with the good of the Church placed themselves in unqualified exile from Tradition.


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