Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cardinal Burke On Holy Canon Law

I think I see a violation of Liturgical norms in this photo.  It's the woman with the camera in the lower left hand corner.

In my readings this weekend, I came across the Zenit article I feature below. The excerpt is taken from the full transcript of a speech that Cardinal Burke gave at the Kenyan Canon Law Convention. The whole speech is worth reading for in it Cardinal Burke makes the case that Canon Law is both the script and the glue that holds together the Church, and should be the foundation for the New Evangelism. There are a number of interesting historical takes with in the full speech, but I've chosen to excerpt his final four points which lay out his script for the primacy of Canon law in the New Evangelization.


Zenit - 8/30/2012

Specific Form of the New Evangelization through Canonical Discipline
            From the above considerations, it should be clear that the knowledge of and respect for canonical discipline is indispensable to the Church’s response to the call to a new evangelization. There are many aspects of the form of the new evangelization through canonical discipline. I address four as examples.

            The first aspect is respect for the rule of law as the irreplaceable foundation for right relationships and coherent activities within the Church. In specific, we must confront the antinomian tendency of the culture, which is inimical to the organic unity which is inherent to the Body of Christ. A general ignorance of canon law, which sees it as some esoteric and surpassed aspect of Church life, must be overcome. At the same time, the false conflict between canon law and the pastoral nature of the Church, between truth and love, must be addressed. (In an earlier part of this speech Burke goes on for quite some time about this false conflict between canon law and the pastoral nature of the Church. He seems to see punishment as pastoral activity, and adherence to Catholic Truth a higher priority than Christian charity. Or maybe it was more he sees adherence to Catholic Truth as the foundation from which real Catholic charity unfolds--as opposed to those CINO charitable organizations.)

            Secondly, key to the form of the new evangelization through canonical discipline is the study of the sources of canonical institutes in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition. The discipline regarding the refusal of Holy Communion to persons who persist in grave and public sin, for example, must be seen in its consistent development from the time of Saint Paul.[xliv] Likewise, the ground of nullity of marriage, lack of sufficient discretion of judgment, must be seen in the long canonical tradition regarding the influence of the lack of psychological capacity or the loss of it through mental illness on the capacity to give marriage consent. (Notice how there seems to be some self justification in this paragraph.  I have to admit his convoluted sentence on nullity of marriage made no sense to me.)

Thirdly, the study of the text of the law must respect the mind of the legislator and, therefore, avoid any kind of formalism. The wording of Church discipline derives from solid juridical, canonical and theological foundations which can only be known by those humble enough to study them. All forms of manipulation of the law to advance particular agenda redound to the grave harm of the faithful and of the Church as the Body of Christ. (Unless this manipulation is being done by those who were humble enough to study Canon Law.  Men like Cardinal Burke for instance.)

Finally, liturgical law must enjoy the primacy among canonical norms, for it safeguards the most sacred realities in the Church. It is interesting to note that in his first Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, Blessed Pope John Paul II confronted the abuse of general confession and general absolution, of the essentially personal encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, reminding us both of the right of the penitent to such an encounter and the right of Christ Himself,[xlvii] and that, in his last Encyclical Letter  Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he urgently addressed abuses of the Church’s discipline regarding the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he declared: 

"I consider it my duty, therefore, to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haereses) (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church."

As is always the case, knowledge and observance of canonical discipline frees us from the false impression that we must make the Sacred Liturgy interesting or stamp it with our personality, and frees us to be the instruments by which the presence of Christ, the Good Shepherd, among His people is rendered more visible, and the action of the Sacred Liturgy bears His stamp alone.  (Giving liturgical norms the primacy of place in Canon Law essentially gives Holy Orders the primacy of place in the sacramental system, which was has been a large part of the last two papacies and is the fuel that runs all through Cardinal Burke.)


 When I finished reading this speech I was left with the distinct impression Burke is attempting to define himself and his office as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura as a separate seat of authority with in the Vatican.  There are places where he seems to be saying even the CDF would have to answer to Canon Law and the interpretation of the Apostolic Signatura, and not the other way around.   Burke states in no uncertain terms that beginning with the Second Vatican Council it was a systemic failure to observe or even take Canon Law seriously that has led to all the ills in Catholicism.  The implication being that the CDF, the Congretation for Bishops, various other dicasteries, and his own predecessors at the Apostolic Signatura were asleep at the switch and the Church disintegrated in front of their snoring noses.

 In one place he states had priests and bishops followed Canon Law with sexually abusing priests, the scandal would not have been nearly so extensive, especially in the US.  The trouble with that piece of self justification is that many bishop enablers were exactly following Canon Law and that is precisely why priests were never reported to civil criminal authorities and precisely why the secrecy involved in the process resulted in so much more abuse by repeat offenders.  But, Cardinal Burke lives in his own little Vatican world of pristine Catholic truth, and not in the real world where things aren't so pristine and I guess that frees him to believe what he believes is somehow universal.

His definition of freedom, as least the kind of freedom following Canon Law gives Catholics, can be seen in the final paragraph above.  In Burke's script all we Catholics have to do is stop thinking and follow the script of Canon Law and we will be purified vessels in which the Catholic Jesus will flow out of us.  This is very much the same as Mitt Romney having followed the male Mormon script and now has the Mormon Jesus so flowing out of him he deserves to be president of the United States.  Too bad it's real easy for predators and antisocials to memorize and act on these religious scripts.  It's the old wolf in sheep's clothing message.

Lastly,  I'm not sure the good Cardinal recognizes the idea of scrupulosity, or the idea of spiritual pride, or the idea of using Canon Law as a club to beat others down or cast them out.  He certainly doesn't see Canon Law as a series of pastoral guidelines.  Canon Law is as binding as the 10 commandments and define the People of God.  It is the very definition of pastoral to hold Catholics accountable to Canon Law.  Otherwise one is not being pastoral.  One is not giving freedom through slavish obedience. One is enabling sin and confusion and fostering laziness and spiritual sloth.  And by the Grace of Jesus, there will be none of that on his watch.


  1. Maybe Burke has it backwards. Maybe one of the greatest strengths and accomplishments of Vatican II is that it didn't take Canon Law seriously! The Council Fathers left that decision to small-minded, insecure Vatican aparatchicks like Burke.

    1. Actually Bill, you might right. I've read analysis from folks who were there and they too think that the Council Fathers left the documents in such a way that they could be interpreted from a progressive point of view and a traditional. I agree, there is a sort of disconnect in terms of philosophy and how that philosophy is expressed.

    2. I attended a lecture about 20 years ago that one of the big changes the Council was trying to effect was approaching morality from a personalistic premise rather thanx a legalistic one. The traditionalists I've known have thought that was why Vatican II was a disaster in their eyes. Plus the documents don't spell things as directly as say Nicea, Trent and even the First Vatican Council did. As you noté in your comment , perhaps that was the intention. That's not a bug, that's a feature.

      John Fremont

    3. The ambiguity was a good idea, except that the ecclesial foxes got control of the henhouse from the papacy on down before the dream of those like Montini could be realized.

    4. Montini. What a contrast to Burke.

      I highly recommend using the link to:
      Queering the Church
      Queer Lessons in Cardinal Martini’s Warning From the Grave

      When I read Burke's remarks I wondered about the context because the language used is so stilted. Who could he possibly be writing for? Why has he chosen to be so obtuse? I've read a few academic papers in my day and quite frankly I enjoy an author's use of a more extensive vocabulary if it is appropriate.

      Redound instead of rebound? Obfuscation. The document requires about 18 to 22 years of education to be be understood. It isn't easily readable by a typical undergraduate. He's addressing the 1 percent. Or maybe just talking to himself. The convoluted sentence structure, ambitious vocabulary, and content promoting a turgid magisterial canon over the the gospels convey only one lesson. It is a war between the curial "We" against the rest, the secular "They".


      Burke's magna cappa portrait says it all. He's promoting the 200 year old, out of date, irrelevant "CHURCH".

    5. Paul, thanks for linking to Queering the Church. I actually meant to do that in today's post and then spaced it out.

      I agree about Burke's language. I still do not get what it was he was trying to convey about marriage tribunals. I have difficulty with Benedict's stuff for the same reason, contorted, convoluted run on sentences using a vocabulary I can't be sure of precisely how they are using certain words.

      Secularism is one of those words. They don't seem to be using the usual accepted definition, but one that has a particular Catholic meaning.

    6. To be fair, Colleen, the only meanings of those words that they know are the precise 'Catholic' ones as they define it.

      I came away from reading it with the idea that they were writing to impose, assert and expand upon their own authority. Something a bit stronger than run of the mill pomposity. Yes, he was addressing the 1 percent - to impress them with his place in their hierarchy; but also using the vocabulary to repress the 99 percent. They can't argue from their own sense of fairness and spirit if they don't share a similar language. Cheap ruse to be sure, but in some audiences I bet it would work. Either that or the English translations just aren't cutting it.

  2. This man has obviously gone over to the dark side. And don't forget that he is now the U.S. ecclesiatical kingmaker among the Vaticanes. Witness Salvatore (Sally the Hammer) Cordileone, the new chaplain for AA.

    1. I agree Jim. Burke has so missed the whole idea of what Jesus taught. It really wasn't holiness as Burke thinks, it's wholeness and how that expresses itself in compassion for others.

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  4. Cardinal Burke while he wears the extravagant robes of another time calls himself the humble student of canon law and that canon law is the most important contribution to the unity of the One Church. He discusses the the antinomian tendency of others but never mentions any ideas that the Spirit was given us in order to learn more of truth from a great God. He is indeed fearful of secularism because in it, there is often a growth and development of truth. In what he discusses as his humility, truth is only found in past discourse of men codified into cannon law. The history of what some thought was truth codified in the past is indeed more important to this man than a Holy presence in the world to inspire fallible beings and to produce more understanding about truth.

    As a person who very much believes in personal and societal growth and development all this sounds extremely hypocritical and highly paternal. It leaves out the ideas of increasing scientific knowledge because of growth and understanding of more truth. There can be no truth inspired by the Spirit to modern men, the truth only comes from lawyers (of the past and of course Burke). With thoughts like these, how does he explain the automatic opening of the supermarket door when he attempts to enter. This comes from a truth found in quantum mechanics that the fathers of the Church never had any understanding. Was it the Spirit or only man himself that allowed these ideas to be more understood so that society could grow? Is this Burke's antediluvian thought or is it delusional thought of grandeur? What ever it is, there is no humility at all only but is all paternalism dressed in the cape of righteousness. When people understand what this man is saying, they can only head for the door out rather than into the Roman Church! The door out is becoming automatic like the supermarket when Burke’s ideas are put to any critical thought. dennis

    1. Dennis, for some reason longer posts are going to the SPAM file.

      Your point is well taken and it's the same thing that struck me as I read the entire Zenit article. Burke comes across like the Church is above and beyond having to integrate any new knowledge coming from science since the Council of Trent. What does he think, all this progress on so many fronts is the result of the dark side, and only the Church wallowing in it's tradition is still pure?

    2. Beware of the man who describes himself as humble. He is anything but!

  5. And the Russian Orthadox have a similar path as the RCC:

    Also see Tom Roberts recent excellent take on Burke's speech.


  6. The fact of delivery in Kenya reminds me of Sen.Inhofe of Oklahoma that likes to do missionary work in Africa when away from the Senate and play the great white father to his dark children. In Ray's case he is explaining the rebrand-ing of the old coke into the "New Coke" of the new evangelism without consulting the public first if they want a "New Coke" or a new evangelism. Having lived in American test markets in Arizona, I keep scratching my head when the meal-ticket cleric class of the Vatican keep talking about what sounds like a fundamentalist roll out of a traveling tent circus religious revival ready to be rolled out, ready or not. Ray's big kick is perhaps explaining the great white father's vision for the future of the third world now that Europe and the rest of the first and second world can't be lied to anymore by snake oil salesmen in Rome. Curious too is that Ray grew up in Richland Center Wisconsin, yes another cheese boy. Richland Center was a hotbed of the suffragette movement in the midwest in its day. What is in the drinking water there??? Besides Ray, Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center and curious enough Svetlana Peters, Stalin's daughter, died there.

  7. Michael, I want to know what's in the cheese. No wonder Morlino got sent to Madison.