Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that the Pope’s newly released post-synodal exhortation cannot change Church teaching and practice, emphasizing that the document is not magisterial.
“The Church has historically been sensitive to the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd,” he wrote in an article published by the National Catholic Register today. “Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium.”
Burke adds that the Church takes care that “a personal reflection of the Pope, while received with the respect owed to his person, is not confused with the binding faith owed to the exercise of the magisterium.”
“Certain commentators confuse such respect,” which is rightly due to the Pope, “with a supposed obligation to ‘believe with divine and Catholic faith’ (Canon 750, § 1) everything contained in the document,” says Burke. “But the Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine Office as instituted by Our Lord Himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium.”
Cardinal Burke calls on the Church to make clear that the Pope’s personal opinions are not magisterial. “While the Roman Pontiff has personal reflections which are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the Papal Magisterium.”
The Cardinal warns that a failure to make the distinction between the Pope’s personal opinion and magisterial teaching “is harmful to the faithful and weakens the witness of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.”
According to Cardinal Burke the exhortation cannot be interpreted as a “revolution in the Church, as a radical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church,” since, “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.”
Such a view of the document is both a source of wonder and confusion to the faithful, and potentially a source of scandal not only for the faithful but for others of goodwill who look to Christ and his Church to teach and reflect in practice the truth regarding marriage and its fruit, family life, the first cell of the life of the Church and of every society.
Burke likewise emphasises that pastoral practice cannot be in conflict with doctrine. It is not possible to separate doctrine and practise because if a practise is legitimized that is contrary to Catholic thinking – such as giving communion to divorced and remarried couples who are living in a state of adultery – then automatically one affirms a heterodox doctrine.
The Church’s official doctrine, in fact, provides the irreplaceable interpretative key to the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, so that it may truly serve the good of all the faithful, uniting them ever more closely to Christ, who alone is our salvation. There can be no opposition or contradiction between the Church’s doctrine and her pastoral practice, since, as the Catechism reminds us, doctrine is inherently pastoral. ∎