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Cardinal Burke: papal document does not-- and cannot-- change Church teaching

April 11, 2016

In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis does not and could not change the teachings of the Church regarding marriage, Cardinal Raymond Burke writes in an exclusive analysis for the National Catholic Register.

Cardinal Burke notes that near the outset of his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis explicitly states that the document should not be regarded as an act of the magisterium. Moreover, the American cardinal observes that wheareas an apostolic exhortation would ordinarily summarize the work of the Synod of Bishops, this document does not refer extensively to the final report of the Synod. Cardinal Burke concludes that the Pope intends the work as his own personal reflection.

The Synod of Bishops, the cardinal continues, is designed "to safeguard and foster what the Church has always taught and practiced in accord with her teaching." Thus it would contradict the work of the Synod to alter Church teaching. Cardinal Burke concludes:

The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching.

Cardinal Burke insists that faithful Catholics should receive the papal document respectfully, and says that they should not fall into "the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the Pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd." 

The cardinal ends his short essay by remarking that throughout his priestly ministry he has cared for some Catholics in irregular marital unions. He says: "Even though their suffering would be clear to any compassionate soul, I have seen ever more clearly over the years that the first sign of respect and love for them is to speak the truth to them in love."


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  • Posted by: Kansas Girl - Apr. 15, 2016 11:52 AM ET USA

    Cardinal Burke would make a great Pope. His theology is sound and his writing clear and unambiguous. I appreciate that. I would also note that, where the Church is most lenient and "progressive," such as in Germany, Church attendance is greatly diminished. The same is true for progressive Protestant churches. The Catholic Church should learn from that.

  • Posted by: ljlc48358 - Apr. 13, 2016 12:27 AM ET USA

    well said.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 12, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    I read Cardinal Burke's essay and found nothing untoward in it. On the contrary, the essay is an insightful apologetic for both the papal exhortation and the heroic calling embodied in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I have found Catholic marriage to be a difficult thing. However, the permanence of the marital bond never ceases to draw me back when strains become challenging. Cardinal Burke points this out again and again in his reflections on his youth and his pastoral ministry.

  • Posted by: unum - Apr. 12, 2016 10:29 AM ET USA

    As the Holy Father admonishes the clergy to be more loving and less legalistic in their dealings with the laity, I see nothing in Church teaching that is contrary to his message. However, in Cardinal Burke's slippery words and the words of other members of the hierarchy, I hear overtones of the desire to hang on to power that has caused many of the laity to leave the Church.

  • Posted by: Travelling - Apr. 12, 2016 4:58 AM ET USA

    I agree, I have read excerpts and see no reason to interpret a change in doctrine. I believe the Holy Father is reminding us to treat all with kindness and mercy. I liked his reminder that divorced and remarried Catholics are not excommunicated. We should not treat them as if they are. Love and mercy.

  • Posted by: claire5327 - Apr. 12, 2016 1:45 AM ET USA

    "My sheep know my voice." When words from anyone who is an authority within the Church, if whose spoken or written words are not in agreement with the Word Of The Lord, those words must be discarded, regardless what that authority might be. There must be no confusion within the Teaching of the Church! The church is the hospital for the cure of every Spiritual Illness, there must not be Malpractice within the Church. There is enough confusion in the world for all of us to sort out! do no add!