Benedict Kiely on “The Pope’s Unforced Error” [National Review Online]

NOVEMBER 12, 2014
The Pope’s Unforced Error 
His demotion of Cardinal Burke, a loyal but eloquent critic, could turn out to be his greatest mistake. 

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke
The titular appointment of Burke to an apparently irrelevant ancient chivalric order looks like an effort to sideline him, but it might turn out to be the Argentinian pope’s greatest mistake. Burke himself, unlike many, is a true man of the Church, and he is unshakably loyal to the successor of Saint Peter. There is, in fact, no “opposition,” in the political sense, to Pope Francis; he is the validly elected pope and, as long as he does not lead the Church astray, must be respected and obeyed. However, in a tradition stretching back to Saint Paul and later to Saint Catherine of Siena, and to countless others, it is not disloyal to fraternally correct or question certain actions or statements of the pope. To paraphrase Chesterton, it is the difference between being a courtier and a patriot. A “patriot,” Chesterton said, “meant a discontented man. It was opposed to the word ‘courtier,’ which meant an upholder of present conditions.”
In today’s Vatican, the courtiers have the upper hand. It is as a patriot, a man discontented with yet loving his Church, that Burke in his new position will enjoy a freedom that until now he did not have. He will be able to travel and to celebrate the ancient Mass all over the world. He can lecture, preach, and write. And the Knights of Malta are not, as left-leaning devotees of liberation theology might believe, relics from a Dan Brown novel. Not only are their ranks filled with members of the aristocracy from every nation on earth but, far more significantly, the newer members are often wealthy and influential figures in industry, politics, and the media. The Knights — and Dames — of Malta run hospitals and charitable organizations throughout the world. Their annual pilgrimage with the sick and handicapped to Lourdes is one of the largest the shrine sees. The men and women admitted to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a state that issues passports, are devout Catholics, who both love their faith and act with generosity and commitment. It is this highly influential arm of the Church that Cardinal Burke has been “demoted” to lead.

What does this apparently inter-ecclesiastical dispute matter to the wider world? In the first place, it shows how the only large global institution that represents what might be called the traditional view of the family and society is divided, and that division is clearly bad for those who care about the future of the family and civil society. On a more positive note: This could mark the last rally of a certain Sixties mentality in rapid decline. Unless they are weathervanes tilting with the wind of ambition, the priests and bishops ordained since Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict have nothing in common with the bell-bottomed theology that, at least for a season, has been revived in Rome.

There is one possible final irony. Some have speculated that Pope Francis, who turns 78 next month, will follow the example of his predecessor and eventually step down from the Petrine office, perhaps at age 80. In any case, Raymond Burke will likely be a significant figure at the conclave to elect his successor, and already some observers are predicting that the courtiers’ foe will end up as the next king.

— Father Benedict Kiely is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe, Vt., and director of continuing education for clergy in the Diocese of Burlington. He is the founder of Nasarean


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