The Ways Of The Clergyman According To M



If you follow Catholic priests – as I do – you might notice – as I think I do – a certain “style” of criticism, that to me seems rather uniform. The main rules I can recognise are the following:

– the civility of the criticism (excessive, if you ask me, in most cases; but then again I am not a priest) and

– the limitation of the criticism to a fact or a statement, without ever targeting the person, if the person if a fellow clergyman.

I notice this very often in the priestly blogs I follow: there is the statement of a fact, and the criticism of the fact. There is the report of a certain statement, and the refutation of that particular statement. Clergymen of this type do not attack other clergymen as people (some other clergymen, of another type, do; Cardinal Kasper comes to mind; but not the ones I am talking about).

I have read, at the time it was finally published, the full transcript of Cardinal Burke’s interview to BuzzFeed. I was in no doubt that the actual words of the interview, when they were made public, did not contain a direct criticism of the character of Francis as person, as much as a very strong criticism of a certain behaviour in a certain, particular circumstance. Which, in the case of a Pope, is a very strong criticism, but not a personal attack.

The difference between “what the Pope does is bad” and “the Pope is bad” is not a milder criticism in the second case. It is, in my view, the desire to make clear that the criticism is a factual one, not a personal one. This is, I think, always important among the right kind of clergymen; but it becomes even more important when Cardinal Kasper blathers all the time about attacks to the Pope and enemies of the Pope.

In some cultures, this difference between the person and the issue at hand is more blurred, and there is a more or less implied understanding that you criticise a man as a result of an action or a statement of his; whilst in other cultures – like the German and, I begin to think, the ecclesiastical one – the distinction between the criticism of a person and the criticism of his stance are far more marked. The Germans even have an adjective (“sachlich”), which conveys this idea of being “linked to a thing”, rather than to the person attached to it. Whilst every language has such expressions, in the case of the Germans the frequency of its use conveys to the Foreigner the particular importance attached to it. In the case of churchmen, I doubt there is an equivalent expression; but the praxis is, it seems to me, just as solidly established: he who attacks the person looks bad; the battle is always fought on things, not people.

Therefore, I am unable to see in the recent clarification of Cardinal Burke any kind of backpedaling or watering down of his criticism. Besides, the man is a legally trained mind, and for legally trained minds distinctions of this sort do matter.

On the contrary, it seems to me – and I may be wrong on this; time will tell – that with his brutal repetition of the exact content of his criticism – the exact one; without softening of any sort – the Cardinal has sent quite the contrary message. A message which I for myself read thus: “please do not describe me as the personal enemy of the Pope; but my criticism of what he does is still there, and for the sake of clarity I will repeat it word for word”.

I have just written that the way I know these things, the criticism is often followed by a “soft retractation” meant to deny the implied, but very obvious criticism. In this case, it seems to me that the Cardinal is not ready to do even that; conscious, perhaps, of the huge dismay every little apparent giving away of Catholic ground could have on countless faithful Catholics.

I am, though, simply unable to see any difference in the clarification, which has to me the very same meaning I had already understood: what the Pope is doing – a specific conduct: not intervening against heresy – harms the Church. Headline writers tend to be imprecise and untechnical, something a rigorous legal mind like Burke will not let stand without correction. Honestly, I did not even need the clarification, because I got the Cardinal the first time, and I always discount the titles.


I do not know how strong Burke and his are. I have no way to read their mind and measure their determination on a scale from one to ten. I pray that the Lord may give them, and all those willing to take this battle on their shoulders, the determination to fight, and to fight well.

I suspect, in fact, that now a very complicated and subterranean game will begin, in which both sides will alternate public interventions with a very intensive corridor work. The result of this work will, probably, only become clear in October 2015. I cannot tell you how it will end. I am fairly optimistic, but then I always am. I carry the Roman sun inside, and if at times I do not see the shadows, I still think this Roman sun is a very good help in seeing the reality around me. Yes, I have my worries for the huge battle in front of us.

But Cardinal Burke’s clarification is, as far as I am concerned, not one of them.







Posted on October 29, 2014, in Catholicism, Conservative Catholicism, Traditional Catholicism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Blessed are the polyglots for they sometimes orient the disoriented. 😉

    I agree with you that Cardinal Burke chose his words extremely carefully the first time. I find nothing whatsoever lacking in his conduct throughout the Synod and its immediate aftermath.

    • Without reading the link, I know nothing reportedly from the mouth of this man can be deemed unbelievable.
      He truly has pushed the boundaries of reality.

  2. There was nothing misleading about the original report. What was reported was clearly implied from the actual words the Cardinal uttered. (and I am a trained lawyer.) A court would not accept a claim that the Cardinal’s statement was misreported in this instance.

    However, I am not surprised that there was “a clarification” in the political circumstances – this is what happens when the pressures are so great and there is a lot of diplomatic and PR exercises to be carried out.

    I think the Cardinal’s original criticism continues to carry the critical force intended, but now diplomatic niceties, and prudential navigation must be observed in its aftermath until the Cardinal judges it time to stand up again.

    • Court or no court, it remains perfectly legitimate for Burke to simply state “my criticism is of a behaviour, not a person”.

      It’s not good to be dubbed “the pope’s enemy”. But it is very good that it be known that Cardinals say what the Pope does is wrong.


  3. You truly must read this and marvel at the name of the group he is speaking to: “THEWORLD MEETING OF POPULARMOVEMENTS”

  4. Yes, Cardinal Burke’s criticism was of specific conduct of Pope Francis – it was very clear.

  5. Mundabor, which would be the christian way of fighting? Is confrontation saintly? I’m asking because my parrish appears to be quite infested by NO priests and modern public, so they are constantly attacking my relying on Bible teachings and Christ’s word. They applaud Francis, the synod, etc so what should my position and/or actions be? Speaking louder? Confrontation and discussion? Leave and close the door behind me?

    • I’d leave and seek a better parish.
      I’m not a friend of this “I fight against injustice by polluting my entire life with heretical crap” thingy. My liver could not take it.
      Seek a priest with a sound mind and who celebrate a sound Mass. Look for a Tridentine if you can (do you know wikimissa?).
      Goo dluck to you.

    • Thank you! Never heard of wikimissa but will search for it. Blessings.

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