I’m seeing some Catholics responding to an interview with Cardinal Burke that brings up a sense of déjà vu. They’re outraged at the words of Cardinal Burke which give an impression of disloyalty.
If what Cardinal Burke said was cited in context and translated with total accuracy, then it goes without saying that Pope Francis was entirely justified in throwing him out from his position. But, practicing what I preach about not rushing to judge Pope Francis on the basis of clips, let me just say that I don’t think that this “if” is true. (And, if you read my blog regularly, you already know I don’t think the Pope “threw him out” either).
Cardinal Burke, responding to a clip of Pope Francis’ oft misquoted “Who am I to judge," said in an interview with a French TV station as saying (assuming that the interpreter from Rorate Cæli did a good job translating—and I simply don’t know one way or another):
[Interviewer:] How do you intend to place pope Francis on the good path?
[Burke, in Italian] On this, also one must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope. The classic formulation is that, "the Pope has the plenitude, the fullness, of power." This is true. But it is not absolute power. His power is at the service of the doctrine of the faith. And thus the Pope does not have the power to change teaching, doctrine.
[Interviewer:] In a somewhat provocative way, can we say that the true guardian of doctrine is you, and not pope Francis?
[Burke, in Italian:] [Smiles, shakes his head] We must, let us leave aside the matter of the Pope. In our faith, it is the truth of doctrine that guides us.
[Interviewer:] If Pope Francis insists on this path, what will you do?
[Burke, in Italian:] I will resist. I cannot do anything else. There is no doubt that this is a difficult time, this is clear, this is clear.
Those words, by themselves sound damning. But I oppose a rush to judgment. Why? Because in an interview with Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Burke (affirming he was quoted accurately) said he was “responding to a hypothetical situation” and “I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church's teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” and, “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.”
What Cardinal Burke says is true. The Pope could not absolve him from the responsibility to defend the Catholic faith over error. So we can’t say he was throwing down the gauntlet of rebellion against the Pope. But, if the Pope did not demand of the Cardinal that he teach error, that’s kind of a non-issue.
I think the problem is the video (following the translation—I don’t know either French nor Italian) seems to be excerpted clips from a bigger interview. Also, the interviewer and the presenter seem to be asking leading questions and biased rhetoric. So it feels like we’re not getting the whole picture needed to make an accurate judgment.
If Cardinal Burke intended to make Pope Francis to sound like a man who was heterodox, then I believe it could be said that he did wrong. But if the station France 2 gave an excerpted version of the interview, then we would have to avoid rash judgment and ask whether there is more material on the cutting room floor that would have clarified his relation with the Pope. If so, then Cardinal Burke could not be blamed and I would hope more information would come forward.
In order to avoid rash judgment, I would have to say we could not denounce (or praise as some seem prone to do) Cardinal Burke for disloyalty. We would have to wait and see, being willing to give a good interpretation to his words, asking him to clarify and only if he did turn out to be disloyal, to correct in love.
Practicing what I preach, I will not judge Cardinal Burke without solid evidence. Because there is none, I will not judge him.