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Things are heating up…

“Cardinal” Burke: Francis Not in Heresy, but Heretical Pope would Lose Office automatically

The Amoris Laetitia controversy is far from over. If anything, it’s entering now into its hottest phase yet.

American “Cardinal” Raymond Burke has recently given some interviews on the dubia and their non-response by “Pope” Francis and explained what is to happen next if the dubia remain unanswered. Previously Burke had already threatened a “formal act of correction” against Francis, but without giving details or a timeline. Now Burke has upped the ante.

On December 15, 2016, EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo interviewed the Novus Ordo cardinal on his nightly news program, The World Over. Just below you can watch the full interview. A transcript and accompanying article can be found here.

A few days later, Mr. Burke granted an interview also to Life Site, in which he suggested that this “formal correction” of the “Pope” would probably occur some time after Christmas:

“The dubia have to have a response because they have to do with the very foundations of the moral life and of the Church’s constant teaching with regard to good and evil, with regard to various sacred realities like marriage and Holy Communion and so forth,” Burke said during a telephone interview.

“Now of course we are in the last days, days of strong grace, before the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, and then we have the Octave of the Solemnity and the celebrations at the beginning of the New Year – the whole mystery of Our Lord’s Birth and His Epiphany – so it would probably take place sometime after that.”

The cardinal, who is the patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta, said the format of the correction would be “very simple.”

“It would be direct, even as the dubia are, only in this case there would no longer be raising questions, but confronting the confusing statements in Amoris Laetitia with what has been the Church’s constant teaching and practice, and thereby correcting Amoris Laetitia,” he said.

(Lisa Bourne, “Cardinal Burke suggests timeline for ‘formal correction’ of Pope Francis”, Life Site, Dec. 19, 2016)

This isn’t going to go over well with Francis, that’s for sure. In fact, we may perhaps anticipate that Jorge Bergoglio will lash out — in his inimitable semi-cryptic style — at the dubia supporters in his upcoming Christmas address this week. If the past is any indication, the sparks should be flying again this time.

It is curious, of course, that Mr. Burke thinks that cardinals can correct the Magisterium of a Pope. The way it works in the Catholic Church is that the Pope teaches all, and the cardinals do not teach him, because the Pope alone is the universal teacher of all Christians. Let’s recall just two important papal quotes on this, something you won’t find at the web sites of The Remnant, Catholic Family News, the Fatima Center, or the Society of St. Pius X:

Nor is it any less a matter of praise that in matters pertaining to ecclesiastical discipline you are distinguished by that perfect obedience of execution, of will, and of judgment towards the Holy See, which is such a mark of “the … authentic guidance of the Holy Spirit” [St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., L. III, c. 3].

Let no one take from you the glory of that rectitude in doctrine and fidelity in obedience due to the Vicar of Christ; among your ranks let there be no room for that “free examination” more fitting to the heterodox mentality than to the pride of the Christian, and according to which no one hesitates to summon before the tribunal of his own judgment even those things which have their origin in the Apostolic See.

(Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Sept. 10, 1957; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, n. 1483, p. 760.)


This chair [of Peter] is the center of Catholic truth and unity, that is, the head, mother, and teacher of all the Churches to which all honor and obedience must be offered. Every church must agree with it because of its greater preeminence — that is, those people who are in all respects faithful….

Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, nn. 1,7; underlining added.)

In connection with the issue of a Pope being corrected on matters of doctrine, the case of the fourteenth-century Pope John XXII is often brought up, for this Pope proposed the error — not heresy at the time — that the soul who dies in the state of sanctifying grace does not see God until after the Last Judgment at the end of the world. While this case deserves some very close examination and we will therefore treat it in depth in a separate article as part of our ongoing series The “Heretical” Popes (see Part 1 here), we must point out that Pope John XXII did not allow this error to enter into his Magisterium. Rather, “after gathering an assembly of cardinals and learned theologians, he gave up his [erroneous] opinion. Shortly afterwards (December 4th, 1334) on his death-bed, he publicly retracted the doctrine he had uttered, not as head of the Church, but simply as a private theologian” (Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. 5 [St. Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1945], pp. 91-92).

Let’s get back to “Cardinal” Burke, however. On December 19, The Catholic World Report also published an interview with “His Eminence”, and this one contains the most explosive contents yet:

CWR: Is there a Scriptural basis for rebuking a pope?

Cardinal Burke: The classic Scriptural basis is St. Paul’s rebuking of Peter [in Galatians 2:11ff] for his accommodation of the Judaizers in the early Christian Church. Saint Paul confronted Peter to his face because he would be requiring things of the Gentile Christians that are not inherent to the Christian faith. And Peter actually agreed with that, but when he was with the Judaizers he would feign the other position and so Paul corrected him, as he said, to his face.

CWR: Some critics say you are implicitly accusing the Pope of heresy.

Cardinal Burke: No, that’s not what we have implied at all. We have simply asked him, as the Supreme Pastor of the Church, to clarify these five points that are confused; these five, very serious and fundamental points. We’re not accusing him of heresy, but just asking him to answer these questions for us as the Supreme Pastor of the Church.

CWR: Some people are saying that the pope could separate himself from communion with the Church. Can the pope legitimately be declared in schism or heresy?

Cardinal Burke: If a Pope would formally profess heresy he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic. And so, that could happen.

CWR: That could happen.

Cardinal Burke: Yes.

CWR: That’s a scary thought.

Cardinal Burke: It is a scary thought, and I hope we won’t be witnessing that at any time soon.

[CWR:] Back to this question about the Pope committing heresy. What happens then, if the Pope commits heresy and is no longer Pope? Is there a new conclave? Who’s in charge of the Church? Or do we just not even want to go there to start figuring that stuff out?

Cardinal Burke: There is already in place the discipline to be followed when the Pope ceases from his office, even as happened when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated his office. The Church continued to be governed in the interim between the effective date of his abdication and the inauguration of the papal ministry of Pope Francis.

CWR: Who is competent to declare him to be in heresy?

Cardinal Burke: It would have to be members of the College of Cardinals.

CWR: Just to clarify again, are you saying that Pope Francis is in heresy or is close to it?

Cardinal Burke: No, I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy. I have never said that. Neither have I stated that he is close to being in heresy.

(“Cardinal Burke: ‘No, I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy'”, The Catholic World Report, Dec. 19, 2016)

Let’s go through this step by step.

First, regarding the argument that rebuking the Pope is scriptural: Of course the Pope, being a sinner, can be rebuked if he sins, especially if his sin is public and causes scandal. This is all that Galatians 2:11-15 is about, as we have shown in our appendix to this post. Besides, St. Peter’s sin was only “a venial fault of imprudence”, as St. Augustine teaches. The passage has nothing to do with usurping the Pope’s magisterial authority and correcting him on a matter of doctrine. So, arguing Galatians 2:11 is entirely beside the point.

Next, Burke says he is not at all accusing Francis of heresy. This is not only unfortunate but also bizarre, since there are a number of heresies contained in Amoris Laetitia, as even 45 Novus Ordo pastors and academics had already pointed out in a public letter to the college of “cardinals” and its head, Angelo Sodano, back in June. So why is Burke not accusing Francis of heresy?

Next, Mr. Burke brings up the case of a Pope who were to become a manifest heretic: “…he would cease, by that act, to be the Pope. It’s automatic.” There we go, just as we sedevacantists have been saying. If it is possible for a true Pope to become a heretic (something that cannot entirely be ruled out as a possibility, although it does not seem likely), then such a heretic will, by that very fact alone, immediately cease to be Pope, without any sort of legal declaration or “judgment” by anyone. (On this, please also see our important post, “The Impossibility of Judging or Deposing a True Pope”.)

This same position — that of a Pope automatically ceasing to be Pope if he becomes a manifest heretic — was recently also confirmed by Novus Ordo canon lawyer Ed Peters:

Peters is not just any canonist in the Vatican II Church, by the way. In 2010, “Pope” Benedict XVI appointed him Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura, which is basically the “Supreme Court” of the Vatican, of which Raymond Burke was the prefect until Francis demoted him in 2014.

In short, all this is really bad news for John Salza and Robert Siscoe, whose false and incompetent arguments will now come under ever closer scrutiny as real authorities in the Vatican II Church — which Salza and Siscoe definitely are not — weigh in on these matters and effectively expose these two men as charlatans.

As far as the issue of who is competent to declare a Pope to have fallen from office due to heresy, Burke says it is the college of cardinals. Given the context, it is clear that Burke is talking here about making a legal declaration that a Pope has ceased to be Pope, which then opens up the way to electing a new one in conclave. The necessity of such a declaration is relative, however: It is needed only to be able to establish legally that the Holy See is vacant and a new Pope has to be elected. It is not needed to be able to know that the See is vacant (to say otherwise would involve one in a self-refuting proposition, for then the cardinals themselves could not know that the Pope has ceased to be Pope, hence they could not declare it, either).

For this reason, Canon 188.4 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law says: “Any office becomes vacant upon the fact and without any declaration by tacit resignation recognized by the law itself if a cleric publicly defects from the Catholic Faith” (emphasis added). For an in-depth treatment of this canon and the surrounding issues, please see our lengthy essay, The Chair Is Still Empty: A Response to John Salza on the Alleged “Errors of Sedevacantism”.

But then again, in the Novus Ordo this is nothing something they need to worry about, because Mr. Burke assures all that not only is Francis not in heresy, he’s not even “close to being in heresy”!