Vatican Chief Justice: Pope's Letter Not Intended 'To Be Part of Papal Magisterium'

By Michael W. Chapman | December 24, 2013 | 11:47am EST

Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court at the Vatican.

-- Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the highest court at the Vatican, said he did not think that Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation -- a 224-page document entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelli Gaudium), which touches on myriad issues and has been widely quoted by the media -- was intended to be part of the papal magisterium, the ordinary teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

It seems that Pope Francis makes it clear in the Exhortation's introduction "that these are a number of reflections he's making, that he doesn't intend them to be part of the papal magisterium," said Cardinal Burke, an American, whose official title is Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

Cardinal Burke, the former archbishop for the archiocese of St. Louis, Mo., made his comments during a Dec. 13 interview with EWTN's Raymond Arroyo on the program, The World Over.

During the exchange, Arroyo asked, "Let's talk for a moment about this recent exhortation, the Apostolic Exhortation. It has been getting a lot of play in the media and, of course, lines have been pulled about capitalism and all these other things, and I think over-exaggerate at moments what the Pope's intentions are. In the total, do you agree that that docuemnt is a part of the continum of the teaching we saw with John Paul II, Benedict, and now Francis and that it's only the expression and the tone that has shifted?"

Cardinal Burke answered,  "I don't know. I think that one has to look at the Introduction to the document itself and it seems to me -- and I would have to have the text in front of me -- it seems to me that the Holy Father made a very clear statement at the beginning: that these are a number of reflections he's making, that he doesn't intend them to be part of the papal magisterium."

Arroyo: "He said they're programmatic."

Burke:  "Yes. They're suggestions. He calls them guidelines, there's programmatic. And so, to me, it's a distinct kind of document and I haven't quite figured out in my mind exactly how to describe it. But I would not think -- I don't think it was intended to be part of papal magisterium, at least that's my impression of it."

Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation was widely cited by the media, with liberals often focusing on themes concerning economics and poverty, while conservatives in general noted the document's clear teaching against abortion, gay marriage, and female clergy.


Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.  (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

In the document's introduction, Pope Francis writes, "Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory."


"Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality," says the Pope.

The magesterium is the Catholic Church's teaching office, responsible for the authentic interpretation of Scripture and Tradition in the church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him." (100)

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