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Cindy Wooden October 04, 2023
U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke follows the written text of another speaker at the conference, "The Synodal Babel," at the Ghione Theater in Rome Oct. 3, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

ROME (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said when he and four other cardinals formally asked Pope Francis to respond to questions related to the synod on synodality, they were seeking reassurances about the “perennial truths” taught by the church and not attacking the person of Pope Francis.

“The five ‘dubia’ deal exclusively with the perennial doctrine and discipline of the church, not the agenda of the pope and certainly not the agenda of the five of us cardinals,” Cardinal Burke said Oct. 3 at a conference in Rome about perceived problems with the synod, which was to begin the next morning.

“They have nothing to do with the person of the Holy Father and, in fact, by their nature they are an expression of the veneration owed to the Petrine office and the successor of St. Peter,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Burke, a former Vatican official now without a portfolio, spoke at a conference the day after he made public the questions, called “dubia,” and the Vatican published the lengthy reply that Pope Francis had written to the cardinals in July when they first posed the questions.

In writing the questions to the pope, Cardinal Burke was joined by German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah and Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen. The questions regarded: the interpretation of Scripture; the possibility of blessing same-sex unions; the pope’s assertion that synodality is a “constitutive dimension of the Church”; the ordination of women; and whether repentance is necessary for a person to receive absolution.

In a theater near the Vatican, Cardinal Burke was joined by U.S. Father Gerald E. Murray, a canon lawyer and frequent commentator on EWTN, and by an Italian philosophy professor at a conference titled, “The Synodal Babel.”

Riccardo Cascioli, editor of the Italian Catholic news site that sponsored the conference, said the title was chosen because Babel, like the synod in his opinion, describes a situation of confusion.

The conference took place as the 364 full members of the synod, mainly cardinals and bishops, were ending a three-day spiritual retreat outside of Rome.

When Cardinal Burke mentioned the “dubia” in his speech, he was greeted with applause by an audience of about 200 people, including laity and priests. Cardinal Sarah was seated in the front row.

The cardinal said the purpose of the synod on synodality was to “profoundly modify the hierarchical constitution” of the Catholic Church and to weaken its teaching on moral issues.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our only savior, is not at the root and center of synodality,” he told the conference. “This is why it overlooks and, truthfully, forgets the divine nature of the church.”

Much of Cardinal Burke’s talk focused on similarities he found in Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman Curia and the pope’s vision of a “synodal church,” both of which he said seek to “profoundly modify the hierarchical constitution of the church.”

A weakening of the church’s identity as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” in favor of a “synodal” church, he said, “has as a further consequence a weakening of its teaching in moral matters as well as in church discipline.”

“Bishops and cardinals today need much courage to confront the grave errors that are coming from within the church itself,” Cardinal Burke said. “The sheep depend on the courage of the shepherds who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error and division.”

The first half of Father Murray’s presentation focused on Pope Francis’ decision that some “non-bishops” -- priests, religious, lay men and women -- would participate in the synod assembly as full members, including with the right to vote.

The change, Father Murray said, ignores “the essential distinction between the ordained and non-ordained in the church. Christ’s establishment of a hierarchical church means that certain roles pertain to the shepherds that do not pertain to the sheep.”

“When non-bishop members with voting rights are introduced into an assembly of bishops with voting rights, the assembly ceases to be episcopal in nature,” he said, and thus has no standing in the church’s canon law.

The second half of his speech focused on the synod assembly’s working document and what he described as its “hoped-for ‘soft’ revolution in the church.” As drafted, he said, the document aims to “jettison” church teachings that exclude people who embrace “decadent Western sexual mores and radical feminist” claims about the equality of women.

“The church of ‘me, myself and I,’ where each person recognizes himself in his personally curated set of beliefs, may promise satisfaction,” he said. But “it’s a make-belief, delusional religion of self-worship in which God is relegated to the role of the ‘divine affirmer’ of whatever each one decides to believe.”

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