Cardinal Burke moves one step closer to Formal Schism

God is not a respecter of persons. And neither am I.

Cardinal Burke has served the Church well. He is particularly favored by conservative Catholics, for his conservative point of view on matters of doctrine and discipline. He will be rewarded for his good works in Heaven — unless he goes astray from the Faith.

There is a common set of assumptions among many conservative Catholics. They think that the more conservative you are, the more faithful you are. If you remain conservative, they think that you must have remained faithful. They assume that the conservative answer to every question on faith, morals, salvation, and discipline is always the correct and best answer. They look with disregard or contempt on any theological opinion or version of discipline that seems to be (or is in fact) liberal. When did Christ or His Church teach these ideas? Never at any time.

If we were to categorize Jesus’ teachings as liberal or conservative, some of our Lord’s teachings would be liberal. No more Mosaic death penalty. That was such an extremely liberal idea in Jesus’ day that even the liberal Sadducees would not have dared to suggest it. When can a man divorce his wife? Jesus’ teaching is more conservative than even the conservative Pharisees. Which group did Jesus single out for more criticism, the liberal Sadducees or the conservative Pharisees? — the conservative Pharisees.

But the words of Jesus are intended by Him to teach and guide the faithful of every generation. So when Jesus criticized the Pharisees, who were the conservatives of His day, He was also criticizing conservative Catholics of every generation. He was warning us of the various pitfalls of conservatism. And it seems clear to me that many conservatives today have fallen into just those errors. They over-emphasize the externals of Catholicism — the exact form of the Mass and every detail of vestments and movements. They take mere human opinion, often erroneous, and confuse it for doctrine. They misinterpret and distort the true doctrines of Divine Revelation with their own biases. And like the Pharisees, they do not accept correction from Jesus (nor from His Vicar, the Pope).

They have taken their own understanding, misunderstandings, opinions, and preferences for discipline, and then dogmatized, or even divinized them. Then if a Pope or an Ecumenical Council issues any decision on doctrine or discipline in conflict with their own ideas, they automatically assume it must be an error. They cannot imagine for one moment the sheer possibility that the well-accepted conservative position on doctrine or discipline could ever be mistaken.

Cardinal Burke is not above criticism, merely because he is conservative. And if he and the Pope disagree, absent any decision of the Magisterium from the Pope, either of them might be right or wrong. The idea that Burke must be right because his answer is more conservative is at best a foolish assumption, and at worst the idolatry of conservatism.

But once the Pope teaches as an act of the Magisterium, the Cardinal is obliged to give religious assent. If the Pope teaches as an infallible act of the Magisterium, the Cardinal is obliged to give the full assent of faith. And if the Pope makes any decision on discipline, even one that is in fact imprudent, the Cardinal is obliged to support the Pope. The Roman Pontiff has the authority from Christ to make decisions on discipline, to bind the whole Church on earth, if he so chooses, regardless of whether a Cardinal agrees or disagrees. In fact, the very role of a Cardinal is to assist and support the Pope, not to judge and resist him.


The great apostasy is near. Most Catholics have rejected the Pope — any Pope and every Pope — in his role to teach and correct. They do not accept the teaching of the Magisterium, no matter how definitive it may be. Most Catholics believe whatever they wish to believe. And they do not accept correction from the Church.

How will the great apostasy unfold? I believe that many conservatives and traditionalists will be among the first to leave the Church. (Liberals will leave later, under the next Pope.) Pope Francis will teach true doctrine and make decisions on discipline well within his authority as the Vicar of Christ. But some doctrines of the Church are liberal. And sometimes the liberal version of discipline has its advantages. But many conservatives and very many traditionalists will disagree.

Remember what I said about Christ. Some of His teachings were very liberal. Well, Jesus is still teaching us through the Church. Do not be deceived by persons who speak as if all Church teachings are conservative. Some Church teachings, that is to say, some teachings of Jesus through His Church, are liberal. The teachings of the Second Vatican Council are the teachings of Jesus Christ. For so many years, traditionalist Catholics have been treating the teachings of Jesus in that Council with disrespect and denigration. How will they react when Jesus teaches liberal truths through Pope Francis? They will accuse the Pope of heresy and leave the Church. They will claim that they are merely defending true doctrine and sound discipline. They will eventually attempt to set up a competing Church. What they are actually doing is usurping papal authority and exalting their own ideas, as if they were infallible.

Cardinal Burke

News story: Cardinal Burke: ‘It Is Always My Sacred Duty to Defend Church Teaching’. Please read his words there. The following is an excerpt:

Cardinal Raymond Burke said he was “responding to a hypothetical situation” when he stated that he would resist any possible move by Pope Francis away from Catholic doctrine.

“I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” Cardinal Burke told CNA Feb. 9.

“No authority can absolve me from that responsibility, and, therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist, in fidelity to my responsibility before God.”

I see this same attitude among my fellow Catholics all the time. They speak as if their understanding of Catholicism were Catholicism itself, as if their understanding of dogma were dogma itself, as if they could not possibly be mistaken in their understanding of many different points of doctrine. And some conservatives put forward their own judgments on which elements of discipline are best as if it were an infallible teaching.

Burke errs gravely by setting up a hypothetical where the Pope goes astray from the truth (on a matter of doctrine) or “acts contrary to it” (in a matter of discipline). What he is really proposing is not a hypothetical where the Pope teaches or acts in contradiction to truth, but rather a hypothetical where the Pope teaches or acts in contradiction to Cardinal Burke’s understanding of doctrine or discipline.

And how would the Cardinal react? He publicly states that he would resist the Pope and defend — not the truth itself — but his own understanding of true doctrine and fitting discipline. In other words, the Cardinal has already decided that he understands both doctrine and discipline better than the Pope. And if the Pope should disagree, the Cardinal will resist him.

There is a common saying among the faithful: “Are you more Catholic than the Pope?” Many conservatives and traditionalists today have decided that they are more Catholic than the Pope — because he is liberal and they are conservative. They truly believe that conservatism equals Catholicism. Cardinal Burke thinks that he is more Catholic than the Pope. Literally.

This story began with an interview of the Cardinal on February 8, 2015. Over the next couple of days, the Cardinal had a chance to correct the reporting and/or his own words. He did not do so. He termed the story “accurately reported”. He repeated his previous assertions.

Cardinal Burke is proposing that he himself would commit the sin of formal schism. There is no other way to phrase it. When a Cardinal publicly proclaims that should the Pope himself dare to contradict the Cardinal’s understanding of doctrine and discipline, he would reject that teaching and refuse to cooperate with that discipline, it is nothing but the sin of schism.

Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

The Cardinal has publicly stated that he would refuse to submit to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, if he were to teach on a matter of doctrine or act in a matter of discipline contrary to the understanding of the Cardinal. The Cardinal has proposed a hypothetical in which he himself would commit schism.

This assertion by Burke is particularly severe in that he includes discipline as well as doctrine. It is well understood that questions of discipline are not in themselves questions of truth. The Church’s decisions on discipline are a matter of prudential judgment: which details in the form of the Mass are best; what should the rules be for holy Communion, or other necessary rules. These are not teachings, but practical matters. And yet the Cardinal would resist the Pope even on a matter of discipline. I am not exaggerating when I warn everyone that Cardinal Burke is moving toward the sin of formal schism.

And what would happen if Pope Francis exercises Papal Infallibility in order to teach a truth of the Faith, one that the Cardinal does not agree is true? All the faithful, including Cardinals and Bishops are required under pain of excommunication to every infallible teaching of the Magisterium. To refuse to do so is the sin of formal heresy.

Cardinals and Bishop can possibly fall into the sins of schism and heresy. The Pope cannot commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. The prevenient grace of God absolutely prevents it. See my post: What Saint Bellarmine really said about Popes and Heresy.

{18:17} And if he will not listen to them, tell the Church. But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.
{18:18} Amen I say to you, whatever you will have bound on earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you will have released on earth, shall be released also in heaven.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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13 Responses to Cardinal Burke moves one step closer to Formal Schism

  1. Kathleen says:

    I think you are being unfair to Cardinal Burke. Have you studied theology and Church doctrine in depth as much as Cardinal Burke has? What about the reports regarding the Conclave to elect Pope Francis and the eight cardinals who were lobbied to vote for Cardinal Bergolio before the Conclave began. Have you checked into that? If it is true that this indeed did happen, does it make the election of Pope Francis invalid?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Cardinal Burke has openly rejected the authority of Pope Francis to lead and teach the Church. It does not matter what degrees he has, or how knowledgeable he may be, or how holy he supposedly is. Pope Francis is the Supreme Pontiff. He is the head of the Church on earth and the Vicar of Christ. “But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.” (Mt 18:17).

      {16:16} Simon Peter responded by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
      {16:17} And in response, Jesus said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.
      {16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
      {16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

  2. Rico says:

    Can the sins of apostasy, schism, and heresy be committed only by baptized Catholics? If so, then how or what do we call those outside the Catholic fold, the unbaptized, who present a distorted form of Christianity (eg, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.)? I have always assumed that these pseudo-Christian sects are heretics. But if that is not the correct term for them, then what is it?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Apostasy, heresy, and schism can only be committed by baptized Christians. Protestantism is material heresy, but it would only be formal heresy if a Protestant were to realize that Catholicism was the truth, and yet reject it. Non-Christians, even those who lack baptism but claim to be Christian, cannot commit those three sins because they have not yet accepted the Faith. Only after one accepts the Faith can one possibly be guilty of rejecting the Faith in some way. I’m not sure what term to use, other than non-Christian religions. Mormonism is essentially a pagan religion, since they believe in many gods.

  3. John Platts says:

    Cardinal Burke believes that the Catholic Church cannot change its teachings against abortion, contraception, remarriage after divorce from a valid marriage, and same-sex marriage and its teaching on the indissolubility of a valid marriage. In addition, Cardinal Burke also believes that Holy Communion should be denied to pro-abortion politicians and that remarried persons who are in irregular, adulterous unions should not be admitted to Holy Communion. I agree with Cardinal Burke’s position on these teachings of the Catholic Church, and I certainly do believe that he should continue to defend these teachings of the Catholic Church. However, Cardinal Burke is not free to reject the authority of the Pope simply because the Pope teaches something that Cardinal Burke believes should not be taught, but Cardinal Burke might be free to faithfully dissent from non-infallible teachings of the Catholic Church in a manner that does not contradict the infallible teachings of the Catholic Church.

    Here are links to more detailed information about faithful dissent from magisterial teachings, faithful disobedience of the temporal authority of the Church, and the distinction between magisterium teaching and personal opinion:

  4. Mimi says:


    What do you make of the latest messages through Pedro Regis? I copied 2 very recent messages below in which Our Lady tells us to listen to what the ‘true magisterium’ of the Church teaches. Why would she use the word true in referring to the magisterium of the Church? She has mentioned many times the confusion that is coming. She also said on Jan.17 ” The ones chosen to defend the truth will deny it and there will be great spiritual confusion.”
    And on Jan 1 “There will be great confusion within the house of God and many will have their faith shaken. Be faithful to Jesus. Put your trust and hope in Him. Men fail through weakness, but Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He loves His sheep. Those who listen to Jesus will find in Him their strength and courage. Do not be discouraged.”
    From Feb. 5th, 2015
    “Dear children, remain firm upon the path which I have shown you. Do not stray from Jesus. Love the truth and defend it. The devil will launch new ideas, and many will embrace them as truth. Be alert. Listen to what the true magisterium of the Church teaches. The truth of my Jesus is in the Gospels. Fight against all evil seeds sown to confuse you and separate you from the truth. I suffer because of what is coming for you. Bend your knees in prayer. I am your Sorrowful Mother and I suffer because of what is coming for you. Seek strength in the words of my Jesus and in the Eucharist. Whoever walks with the Lord will never experience the weight of defeat. Go forward without fear. This is the message which I bring you today in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Thank you for allowing me to bring you together here once again. I give you my blessing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Peace be with you.”
    From Jan. 27th, 2015
    “Dear children, the day is coming when the truth will be disrespected and new ideologies will be embraced by men. A great tempest is coming. Pray. I am your Mother and I want to walk by your side. Be docile to my call. I came from Heaven to lead you to the truth. Accept the Gospel of my Jesus and listen to the teachings of the true magisterium of the Church. No evil will touch the truly faithful. Do not forget: in everything , God in first place. Go forward without fear. This is the message which I bring you today in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Thank you for allowing me to bring you together here once again. I give you my blessing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Peace be with you. ”

    Thank you for your insight.

    • Ron Conte says:

      She is referring to the great apostasy, which includes a false Church set up by some conservatives and traditionalists who leave the Church during the reign of Pope Francis. The true magisterium is always led by the Pope, the rock on which the Church is founded. Whosoever rejects the Pope, rejects Christ.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I have read all the comments with great interest and the messages of Our Lady to Pedro Regis. I facilitate an MMP Cenacle and have done so for over 20 years now. I try to stay focused on the locutions Our Lady gave to the late Father Gobbi and leave the other private revelations for others to discern. Primarily, I read the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. Faustina’s Diary for spiritual reading and edification. Again, I ask the question: if it is true that before the Conclave eight cardinals were lobbied to obtain support for the election of Pope Francis BEFORE the election, does this make the election of Pope Francis as Supreme Pontiff invalid? Cardinal Burke is a Canon Lawyer; he may know a lot more than he is revealing at this point in time because of his love for Holy Mother Church. I would like some discussion regarding the above. Thank you.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Again, I ask the question: if it is true that before the Conclave eight cardinals were lobbied to obtain support for the election of Pope Francis BEFORE the election, does this make the election of Pope Francis as Supreme Pontiff invalid?
      See my post on the subject: The Path of Salvation is not fragile

    • Mimi says:

      Kathleen, I had not heard about the lobbying of support for Pope Francis before the election. Rather, what I remember reading was how unexpected it was that he became the front-runner and then was elected. Interesting… Anyway, on another blog I just read the following quotes from the messages to Fr. Gobbi and would like to hear how those here feel they are to be understood. Here they are (I did not verify them):
      [messages deleted by admin]
      According to these messages, it would seem that the great apostasy has already begun.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I deleted those messages because they were misleading. There were claims added in brackets that substantially affected the interpretation. The messages were about the great apostasy. I believe that Mary was referring to the death of the next Pope, the one after Pope Francis. That Pope will die a martyr, and then the great apostasy worsens.

  6. Agellius says:

    I understand that you’re saying the Pope cannot teach heresy, or in other words teach something which contradicts already defined doctrine. Burke apparently disagrees with you. He apparently thinks it is possible for the Pope to do so. If you think he’s wrong about that, you’re certainly entitled to that opinion, and I don’t consider myself qualified to argue with you.

    But to say that Burke intends to disregard formal papal teaching, seems rather an insubstantial concern if the teaching which Burke intends to disregard can never come about in any case. In other words, if the Pope cannot teach something which contradicts already defined doctrine, then there will never arise an occasion on which Burke will feel obliged to resist him.

    It’s as if someone said, “If I ever catch you alone with my wife so help me I’ll kill you!” If you have no intention of being alone with his wife, then what is there to worry about?

    I suppose what you’re really saying is that Burke may rebel in a case where the he *thinks* the Pope is contradicting existing dogma, but where the Pope is not actually doing so, and in that instance he would be wrong. But I think that Burke has made his specific concern pretty clear: If Church teaching is changed to allow the divorced and remarried to receive communion, that would be a contradiction of prior Church teaching. Are you saying that it would not be?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Burke’s error is to assume that his understanding of Church teaching is infallible. If the Pope teaches or acts contrary to Burke’s understanding, he concludes the Pope has gone astray — based on the tacit assumption that Burke himself cannot err. Saint Robert Bellarmine said the Pope cannot fall into heresy or teach heresy. Burke speaks as if he himself cannot fall into heresy, and as if the Pope can.

      Who may receive Communion is a matter of discipline. Even if we assume it is an error of discipline to permit them to receive Communion, it is discipline not doctrine. Burke assumes his own judgment on discipline is better than that of the Pope, then he conflates discipline with doctrine, and finally he publicly states that he will resist the authority of the Pope on both doctrine and discipline. If someone says that they will commit murder if a particular scenario occurs, they have sinned gravely by that assertion. Burke’s public assertion that he will resist the Pope if…, is a grave sin.

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