UPDATE 12-16: The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has terminated Cardinal Raymond Burke’s membership on the powerful Congregation for Bishops, a body that makes recommendations to the pope for appointment of bishops around the world. The pope has officially nominated Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation. The pope also terminated from the Congregation Cardinals Mauro Piacenzo and Angelo Bagnasco, conservative allies of Benedict XVI. Observers note that Archbishop Müller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not named to the Congregation for Bishops. Newly named to the Congregation for Bishops are Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington.

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In a recent interview on EWTN (video at the end of this post), Cardinal Raymond Burke said some surprising things about Pope Francis, his recent exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), impending reform of the Roman Curia, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, and the document Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict that allows any priest to celebrate Mass according to the unreformed books in use before the Second Vatican Council. (Pray Tell transcript here.) Cardinal Burke is prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Catholic Church’s “supreme court,” having previously served as archbishop of St. Louis, MO, and bishop of La Crosse, WI.

Focusing Too Much on Some Moral Issues?

Cardinal Burke was asked about the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortion Evangelii Gaudium, and elsewhere, that the church should focus on the essentials and not talk too much about issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The cardinal said,

Well the pope’s statement doesn’t state that. In fact it’s a text that’s not altogether easy to interpret. But my response is, what could be more essential than the natural moral law? … And so, to me the pope can’t be saying, I can’t interpret that phrase of his, as saying that these are not essentials. I’m not exactly sure why he mentioned it. One gets the impression, or it’s interpreted this way in the media, that he thinks we’re talking too much about abortion, too much about the integrity of marriage as between one man and one woman. But we can never talk enough about that!

Pope Francis is clearly opposed to abortion. In Evangelii Gaudium, he says at no. 214, “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

But Cardinal Burke takes a different tone in his comments. He says,

In our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in a most savage way, I mean, it’s literally a massacre of the unborn… We can never talk enough about that, because if we don’t get this straight, that human life, innocent and defenseless human life is an inviolable dignity, how are we going to understand anything else correctly with regard to care of the sick or whatever it might be?

Whether Evangelii Gaudium Is Papal Teaching

Cardinal Burke downplayed the importance of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, emphasizing that it shouldn’t be considered papal teaching.

It seems to me that the Holy Father made a very clear statement at the beginning that these are a number of reflections that he’s making, that he doesn’t intend them to be part of the papal magisterium. … They’re suggestions, he calls them guidelines… I don’t think it was intended to be part of papal magisterium. At least that’s my impression of it.

Reform of the Roman Curia

The chair of the committee of cardinals charged with reforming the Vatican curia, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, has said the current system is over and it is time for something different. In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter he said, “It is not just taking the constitution Pastor Bonus and trying to change this and that. No, that constitution is over. Now it is something different. We need to write something different.” Pastor Bonus is the 1988 constitution of John Paul II on the Roman curia.

But Cardinal Burke, who is not on the committee of cardinals, has a different view of possible reforms. He said,

I cannot imagine a reform of the Roman Curia which would not somehow be continuous with Pastor Bonus, the apostolic constitution which has governed the Roman Curia since I think 1988, when Blessed John Paul II reformed the Roman Curia, because the church is an organic body… So I can’t imagine that somehow the Roman Curia is going to take on a completely different figure. It just doesn’t make sense.

The cardinal also made a surprising claim about the Roman Curia:

The service of the Roman Curia is part of the very nature of the Church, and so that has to be respected.

Since the Roman Curia did not exist in the earliest centuries of the church, theologians generally do not consider it to be essential to the church’s nature.

Papal Style

EWTN cited the comments of Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is both secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and prefect of the papal household under Pope Francis. Gänswein said (and this is Pray Tell’s translation, BTW), “It is an ache, finding my way with the new role. I have this impression I live in two world. I wait every day for another innovation, what will be different.”

Cardinal Burke said,

There is a kind of unpredictability about life in the Rome in these days. It seems to be a question of a certain style, and every Holy Father is different. So it is quite distinct from Pope Benedict who was, who attended very much to a certain protocol, and also to a certain discipline of schedule and so forth, so there is an element of that, that’s clear.

Summorum Pontificum

Cardinal Burke does not see it as possible that Pope Francis would alter the 2007 universal permission to use the unreformed pre-Vatican II rite of Mass, because that decision of Pope Benedict XVI is “universal legislation.”

I don’t see it as a possibility on a couple of scores. Number 1, it’s universal legislation, and to reverse it would be a very serious act on the part of the Holy Father, and one would have to have the most serious of reasons. But going along with that, Pope Francis has not shown any inclination to change anything with regard to the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. He has made even in the, in the exhortation, he makes a comment about people who are too concerned about the sacred liturgy and so forth, but I don’t think that that can be interpreted as being a negative statement with regard to Summorum Pontificum. … I myself, since Pope Francis has taken office, have celebrated publicly solemn Masses in the Extraordinary Form and I haven’t received any admonition not to do that.

EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo interviews Cardinal Raymond Burke beginning at 9:55: