Typically I don’t post close to midnight just to share a four-year-old article I found, but typically I don’t read articles that are so clear and well-reasoned and strong in their argumentation that I almost become jealous of the author and wish I had written it myself. This April 2018 article on the website of the Irish Jesuits, written by Dermot Roantree on “The ironies of Catholic traditionalism,” clearly and concisely articulates the fatal flaws of the traditionalist approach to magisterial and petrine authority and ecclesiology, reflecting on the 2018 “Chiesa cattolica, dove vai?” (“Catholic Church, Where Are You Going?”) conference in Rome, where Cardinal Raymond Burke delivered his address on the limits of papal power.

We have addressed this speech numerous times on this site; I mentioned it in a 2019 article on the cardinal’s clear rejection of Church authority, Pedro Gabriel responded to it by re-posting his essay rejecting the “Sola Traditio” position; in another article I contrasted Burke’s statements in that speech to the remarks of a man seen as his spiritual mentor, the Servant of God John Hardon, SJ.

But I think Roantree really nailed it with his critique of the logical inconsistencies in Burke’s approach:

Yes, as Cardinal Burke was at pains to emphasise, the Pope’s ‘fullness of power’ is not an authority over the magisterium but a “necessity of governance” to be exercised “in full fidelity” to it. He can’t just declare anything he likes and expect assent. “Therefore,” the Cardinal concludes, “any expression of doctrine or praxis which is not in conformity with Divine Revelation, contained in the Sacred Scriptures and in the Tradition of the Church, cannot be considered an authentic exercise of the Apostolic or Petrine ministry and ought to be refuted by the faithful.”

But this doesn’t really get us far beyond private judgement. What happens – and this is not merely hypothetical – if the Pope says his teaching is indeed in conformity with Scripture and tradition? And what if countless Catholic ecclesiastics, theologians and faithful agree? Whose sense of tradition do you go with then? How do you decide? Cardinal Burke speaks as if the concept of tradition itself is transparent and unproblematic. Plainly, it’s not. His own understanding (and most Catholic traditionalists are broadly with him on this) is heavily dependent on a propositional and archival sense of tradition which emerged in the course of post-Tridentine polemics. In other words, it is not itself a traditional understanding of tradition. There are no grounds for privileging it or taking it as normative.

Please read it all.

In the time since then, Cardinal Burke has delivered this message repeatedly, including a July 10 address at the CREDO forum in St. Louis, just weeks before his hospitalization for Covid-19, and in a new section on papal power he added to the “Marian Catechist Manual”—the instruction booklet for a catechetical apostolate started by Fr. Hardon (who is probably rolling in his grave)—in which he seems to claim that his theory allowing a “formal act of correction” of a pope is Catholic teaching (it’s not):

Since the Roman Pontiff remains a human being, he is subject to sin and heresy or to acts which foster sin and heresy. If he takes any action which is sinful or heretical or fosters sin and heresy, it does not enjoy the authority of his fullness of power and is to be corrected by the faithful, in general, and, in a particular way, by the Bishops. In the classical treatises, it is foreseen, even as history also attests, that the Roman Pontiff can fall into heresy or into the abandonment of his primary duty of safeguarding and promoting the unity of the faith, of worship and of discipline. Since the First See is not judged by anyone (cf. CIC, canon 1404), what is to be done in such a case?

The Gospel and canonical tradition teach a two-fold process: first, the correction of the presumed error or abandonment of duty should be made directly to the Roman Pontiff; and, second, if he continues to err or does not respond, the matter should be declared publicly for the sake of all the faithful. According to the natural law, right reason demands that individual be governed according to the rule of law (regula iuris) and, in the contrary case, provides that the individual can make recourse against actions which violate the state of law. Christ Himself teaches the way of fraternal correction, which applies to all of the members of His Mystical Body (cf. Matthew 18:15-17). His teaching is put into practice in the fraternal correction of Saint Peter, carried out by Saint Paul, when Saint Peter did not want to recognize the freedom of Christians from certain ritual laws of the Jewish faith (Galatians 2:11-21). Finally, canon 212 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides for the faithful the directive regarding the correction of pastors, including the Supreme Pastor.

Anyway, enough of Cardinal Burke and enough of me. Please read the excellent essay by Dermot Roantree. I’d love to discuss it.

Image: Cardinal Burke. By Abraxham03 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81254560

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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