|Cardinal Raymond Burke - who allegedly wrote to|
Cardinal Bertone concerning the NeoCats
(source: Raymond Cardinal Burke Facebook page)
Not many, not even in the Catholic world, have taken much notice of these events – mainly because these leaked confidential papers are not really that interesting. Purporting to show high-level shenanigans within the Vatican’s corridors of power, the letters and other documents allegedly stolen from Pope Benedict XVI’s private apartments, don’t exactly reveal anything of the sort.
Although newspapers around the world have exclaimed that Vatileaks is striking at the heart of corruption in the Vatican, and that these documents expose factions plotting against each other amongst the Roman Curia (nothing new in either of these revelations, cf Mk 10:35-45 - James and John's ambitions for glory and power!), nothing published so far seems to point to anything substantive or explosive. No wonder that hardly anyone (bar the usual suspects: dissident Catholics and eccentric anti-Catholic Protestants and atheists) has bothered to comment on any of the articles covering this story.
Having said all that, it seems that one of the only letters used by La Repubblica to prove the existence of ‘warring factions’ within the Vatican, is quite interesting (well, for ecclesiastical obsessives like me, at any rate). Not because it reveals internal conflicts amongst members of the Curia (which it doesn’t), but because it shows how concerned both the Pope and the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke (pictured), are with the liturgical abuses rife in that modern ecclesiastical movement known as the Neocatechumenal Way.
Known colloquially as the NeoCats, this movement - referred to by some commentators as the ‘Protestant cuckoo in the Catholic nest’ - has been a cause for concern amongst traditional Catholics for several decades. Not only does this group's theology sometimes appear to be at variance with Catholic teaching, but its liturgy has often been criticised (rightly, in my opinion) because it can lead to parochial disunity, ecclesial dissent, as well as a lack of appreciation of the full meaning and nature of the Holy Mass. (One of the founders of the NeoCats has openly declared that the Mass is not a sacrifice and has also denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.)
In a letter dated January this year, allegedly stolen from the Papal apartments and published in full in yesterday’s La Repubblica, Cardinal Burke apparently expressed his surprise to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, at the fact that a NeoCat liturgy was about to be approved without having first been discussed by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, of which Raymond Burke is an important member. (In fact, as we now know, only parts of the NeoCat liturgy were approved, whilst the Pope also emphasised that members of the Neocatechumenal Way should celebrate Mass according to the norms of the Roman Rite.)
The contents of this document aren't very exciting or revelatory in a conspiratorial way, despite the fact that the left-leaning Italian daily tries to make it look otherwise. Cardinal Burke’s letter is really a missive being sent to express his own concerns about the NeoCats, emphasising that he both bows to the "wisdom of the Pope" in the matter whilst also mentioning that he is aware of disobedience and dissent present in many Neocatechumenal Way communities in his native USA.
Bizarrely, when La Repubblica published this letter yesterday - a letter allegedly penned by Cardinal Burke and sent to Cardinal Bertone (with a copy to the Pope) - the Italian newspaper added an ‘all rights reserved’ tag at the end of it! How on earth can a newspaper claim the rights to property that it has also claimed in one of its own reports is allegedly stolen from the Pope?
I do not intend to reproduce the whole letter here, mainly because I do not wish to be complicit in the actions of the alleged thieves, and also because I wish to respect the privacy of this (now public) document. But I have decided to publish translated sections of it (now that it is ‘out there’, so to speak), mainly for the purpose of proving that this letter is anything but indicative of high-level infighting within the Vatican's Leonine walls. From this document, it will also become abundantly clear to all how Cardinal Burke was both merely defending the truth as he saw it and acting in his role as adviser to the Pope when he raised these concerns about perceived problems related to the NeoCats. This letter does not indicate dangerous infighting, neither does it prove that anything sinister is taking place within the Curia.
The alleged letter, below, has been translated by me using three different internet translators. The original also appeared without paragraphs, which I have now added as a way of making the text more accessible: -
Most Reverend Eminence,
Upon returning from the Solemn Mass celebrated by you [Cardinal Bertone] and the ceremony at the Palace of the Tribunals for the opening of the judicial year of the State of Vatican City, I found on my desk a formal invitation to a celebration by His Holiness Benedict XVI “upon the approval of the liturgy of the Neocatechumenal Way”, scheduled for January 20. I enclose a photocopy of the invitation, which has a printed image of Our Lord in colour on the back, which perhaps Your Eminence has also received.
Apart from the question about the way in which such approval was prepared for the Holy Father, in conscience, I feel I must express my strong reservations with regard to innovations that the Neocatechumenal Way has introduced into the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. These innovations have already been corrected in 2006 by Cardinal Francis Arinze, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, but I have to say that these corrections have not had any success, at least in the United States....
Without going into a detailed commentary on the innovations, I give two of my main concerns. The preferred location for the celebration of Mass and the disposition of the members during this celebration, with the abnormal form of Reception of Holy Communion, in my opinion, seriously exaggerate the appearance of a banquet in the Eucharistic Sacrifice whilst neglecting the indispensable ministry of the priest at Holy Mass. In the same vein, long admonitions given by members at the ambo during the celebration of Mass relativises the proclamation of the Word of God and the sermon on the Word of God by the ordained minister. While these admonitions may have an appropriate place in non-liturgical celebrations, they represent, in my opinion, a serious distortion of the Rite of the Mass.
Finally, as a loyal expert on the teaching of the Holy Father on the liturgical reform which is crucial to the New Evangelisation, I believe that the approval of these liturgical innovations, even after the correction thereof by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, does not seem consistent with the liturgical magisterium of the Pope. In particular, the [movement’s] innovations reflect an anthropocentric, not theocentric, understanding concerning the liturgical action, on which the Holy Father has always insisted very clearly.
I express these thoughts with all due respect for the wisdom of the Holy Father on the subject. But, because of the responsibility that rests with the Cardinal to help the Pope in the Petrine ministry, I had to express my mind in its fullest and highest expression on something so important to the life of the Church....Hardly an explosive letter revealing bitter feuds within the Holy See! In fact, on reading this leaked document, allegedly written by Cardinal Burke, I could not square it at all with the letter currently being referred to as evidence of "power-hungry cardinals and scheming within the walls of the city state" by many of our mainstream English language newspapers (see the Daily Mail, for example). Of course, it is well worth noting that none of these newspapers have published this letter in full, whilst even trying to locate it on La Repubblica's website was itself quite a task!
Interestingly, though, today’s La Repubblica published the alleged annotations of Pope Benedict XVI, made by hand in the margins of this letter. Allegedly, the Pope wrote two lines on the original document, both of which seem very supportive of Cardinal Raymond Burke’s concerns. The first papal note seems difficult to decipher, but basically agrees that Cardinal Burke’s observations should be make known to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In his second annotation, Pope Benedict XVI allegedly wrote: "we take account of these very just observations" [made by Cardinal Burke]. Maybe this is why the Pope later ordered an urgent investigation into the way the NeoCats continue to celebrate the Mass (see Sandro Magister's April '12 article, "That Strange Mass that Pope Doesn't Like").
I have come across many kind and friendly members of the Neocatechumenal Way during the years - mainly priests, a few of whom I still know and like. They have always struck me as being liturgically and theologically orthodox when working within diocesan structures, and I have often been impressed by their great desire to provide the Church with priestly vocations. They have also done some good work in the area of evangelisation... But at what cost?
I fear that there is a deeply Protestant element to the NeoCats, and am concerned that some of the group's members seem more obedient to their 'cult-like' leaders than they are to the legitimate successors of St Peter. I am also yet to meet a NeoCat who appreciates traditional Catholicism, which sustained our ancestors, our fathers in faith, for so many wonderfully Christian centuries. Sadly, whilst speaking with one NeoCat some years ago, I was told that some within the movement believe that the Catholic Church fell into error from the fourth-century until the Second Vatican Council – not even Martin Luther would have gone that far in his Protestant rejection of Catholicism!
Of course, people disagree with each other in the Church, and sometimes even get angry with their theological or ecclesial opponents - we are human, after all! But at the end of the day, it is important to remember that one of the greatest miracles of Catholicism is the fact that it has remained so marvellously (and supernaturally) united for nearly 2,000 years!
Despite human weakness, despite disagreements, and despite error and dissent on the part of some of her members, the Church remains one body. In that sense I am reminded of the fact that St Paul once opposed St Peter "to his face" whilst also criticising and condemning him before others (cf Gal 2:11-21), yet both men were united and together in Rome at the end, where they both shed their blood for Christ, in whom, and in whose Church, they were inseparably united by a Divine love - a love that brings peace enough to demolish all the dividing walls of hostility (cf Eph 2:14).
[There are some excellent photographs of Cardinal Burke, taken during his recent celebration of High Mass at the Brompton Oratory, on the Oratory of St Philip Neri in London (Brompton Oratory) Facebook page]