Catholic Cardinal: There's 'Serious Division in The Church,' Could 'Develop Into a Formal Schism'

Michael W. Chapman | December 23, 2016 | 11:58am EST
Font Size

Pope Francis and Cardinal Raymond

Burke. (

One of the top bishops in the Catholic Church, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, said there is "a very serious division in the Church which has to be mended" or it "could develop into a formal schism."

Cardinal Burke, the former head of the highest court at the Vatican, made his remarks in reference to the ongoing public debate over Pope Francis' letter on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In the letter, it is unclear whether the Pope is saying it is okay for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics -- who are objectively living in adultery, a serious sin -- to receive Holy Communion at Mass.  

Cardinal Burke, four other cardinals, and 23 Catholic scholars and priests have publicly called upon the Pope to answer this question clearly -- yes or no -- and four related questions.  So far, the Pope has not responded. 

In a Dec. 19 interview with the Catholic World Report (CWR), Cardinal Burke was asked, "Bishop Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C., the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina, who has written an open letter of support for the four cardinals and their dubia, has also said that the Church is in a de facto schism. Do you agree with that?"

Pope Francis (AP). 

Cardinal Burke replied, "There is a very serious division in the Church which has to be mended because it has to do with, as I said before, fundamental dogmatic and moral teaching. And if it's not clarified soon, it could develop into a formal schism."

Later in the interview, Cardinal Burke made it abundantly clear that he is not an enemy of Pope Francis and he does not believe that Pope Francis is teaching heresy with the disputed section in Amoris Laetitia. "I am not saying that Pope Francis is in heresy," said Burke.  "I have never said that. Neither have I stated that he is close to being in heresy." 

"I am a Cardinal of the Church, and one of the Pope’s principal co-workers," said Burke. "I have absolute respect for the Petrine office. If I didn’t care about him and his exercise of the Petrine office, I would just remain silent and let everything go as it is."

"But because in conscience I believe he has an obligation to clarify these matters for the Church, I made it known to him, not just on this occasion, but on other occasions," said Burke.  "The publication of the dubia [questions about Amoris Laetitia] was done with complete respect for his office. I am not the enemy of the Pope."

It is within Church teaching and tradition, when there is confusion over a moral or ecclesial matter, for bishops and the laity to ask the Pope for clarification. It is also normal and expected that the Pope respond, to end all confusion or scandal and unify the Church, the mystical body of Christ. 

"We have simply asked him, as the Supreme Pastor of the Church, to clarify these five points that are confused" in Amoris Laetitia, said Burke. "[T]he faithful and priests and bishops have the right to have these questions answered."

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.  (AP) 

CWR also asked if a Pope could be "declared in schism or heresy"?  Cardinal Burke said, "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."

If that were to happen, members of the College of Cardinals in the Church would have to declare that the Pope is in heresy, explained Burke. At that point, the papacy would be vacant and the cardinals would elect a new Pope. 


mrc merch