Conservative cardinal predicts Synod on Synodality could lead to schism

Cardinal Raymond Burke is considered a leading voice among Catholic conservatives and papal critics.

In this Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, Cardinal Raymond Burke applauds during a news conference at the Italian Senate, in Rome. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former American archbishop and Vatican official who is considered the de facto leader of Catholic conservatives, has written in the preface to a new book that Pope Francis is risking confusion and even schism in leading the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome.

“Synodality and its adjective, synodal, have become slogans behind which a revolution is at work to change radically the Church’s self-understanding, in accord with a contemporary ideology which denies much of what the Church has always taught and practiced,” Burke said in his preface to “The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box: 100 Questions and Answers.”

The book, available online and published by a conservative organization called Tradition Family and Property, was co-written by José Antonio Ureta and Julio Loredo de Izcue, both South American scholars and activists. It is the most recent expression of dissent about the synod, called by Pope Francis three years ago to promote inclusivity, transparency and accountability in the church.

In a statement released Tuesday (Aug. 22), TFP explained the rationale behind the book, saying that “despite its potentially revolutionary impact, the debate around this synod has been limited primarily to ‘insiders,’ and the general public knows little about it.” 

After three years of consultations with Catholics around the world on topics ranging from power structures and women’s roles to combating sexual abuse, bishops and lay Catholics will gather in Rome in October under the rubric of “Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission.” Among the items on the agenda, drawn from the concerns raised by Catholics in diocesan forums, are inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics and female leadership. 

"The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box: 100 Questions and Answers" Courtesy image

“The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box: 100 Questions and Answers” Courtesy image

Those topics have convinced conservative Catholics that the synod is a Trojan horse that will lead to changes in Catholic doctrine on questions of morality and sexuality.

The 110-page book, in a question-and-answer format, addresses the “serious situation” brought on by the synod, Burke wrote in the foreword. It should concern all Catholics “who observe the evident and grave harm” that it has brought on the church. The word synodality, the cardinal added, is “a term which has no history in the doctrine of the Church and for which there is no reasonable definition.”

Burke wrote that synodality leads to “confusion and error and their fruit — indeed schism,” citing a movement in Germany known as the Synodal Path, in which church leaders participated in a consultation with lay and religious Catholics in the country between December 2019 and March 2023. The German process also addressed female ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples, among other issues.

“With the imminent Synod on Synodality, it is rightly to be feared that the same confusion and error and division will be visited upon the universal Church. In fact, it has already begun to happen through the preparation of the Synod at the local level,” Burke wrote.

The only way to uncover the “ideology at work” within the Vatican and “undertake true reform,” Burke wrote, was to turn to the “unchanging and unchangeable doctrine and discipline of the church.” He praised the book and its authors and entrusted to the Virgin Mary his prayer that “the grave harm which presently threatens the Church be averted.”

Burke served as archbishop of St. Louis in the early 2000s, making headlines for advocating denying Communion to politicians who support abortion rights, before being tapped to head of the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, overseeing judicial and disciplinary matters for the Holy See. He was also formerly the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to the Congregation of Bishops, giving him influence over the selection process for diocesan leaders. 

The cardinal has been a vocal opponent of Pope Francis’ vision for the church. When the pope issued his 2016 apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” which opened the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Burke and three other cardinals questioned the decision in a public letter known as dubia, or doubts. Burke has been an unabashed critic of efforts in the church to promote the welcoming of LGBTQ faithful.

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