Cardinal Burke and Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice's invisible ‘enemies’: are Pro Ecclesia their own worst enemy?

Three tickets for Cardinal Burke’s talk collect dust on my shelf. And they will stay there for a long time, and become artefacts of our present times. His Eminence has cancelled his talk that was organised by Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. I’m a tad sour that his talk had to be cancelled, as I had eagerly looked forward to it. His letter to Daphne McLeod is candid and to-the-point: ‘given my position as the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, in which I act on behalf of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, it is not right for me to give a presentation in any place which in anyway would reflect the lack of respect for the Office of Bishop.’
In response to the Cardinal’s letter, Ecclesia et Pontifice say they are ‘whistleblowers’ and have enemies who convinced the Cardinal not to come. The danger here (as I see it) is that they credit random, unseen, nameless nemesis with having changed the Cardinal’s mind, thus endowing their ‘enemies’ with great influence over the Cardinal. Doesn’t it suggest that the Cardinal is being blindly led by some cabal? The only obvious culprit is the flyer. The PEeP flyer need not have stated; ‘..Sadly, because our bishops are obdurate in their refusal to allow our glorious Catholic faith to be taught in our schools…’
It was fatuitous self-indulgence and the flyer was used as a platform to sound-off about the bishops. Is it unfair to ask - are PEeP their own worst enemy?
And even though I’m a disappointed that I won’t hear Cardinal Burke, I resent that blame is put on invisible ‘enemies’, when the flyer alone was enough to put the kibosh on the talk. I’m no Henry Kissinger, but a flyer with the wording, ‘the downward trend is set to resume with the second generation of immigrants’ is a diplomatic nightmare. It more than implies that the bishops are responsible for a generation of immigrants not having the faith.
There is, however, a dichotomy between that which Cardinal Burke calls ‘several expressions of concern from devout and faithful people’; and the gossipy whisperings about who warned Cardinal Burke. So, anyone who privately raised a concern about the flyer has an agenda? In this dimness, baseless conspiracy theories are sprouting like mushrooms. The article on The Catholic Herald website about Cardinal Burke cancelling his visit is surreally akin to a post on Daily Telegraph blogs. The commentators are jousting each other, and a growing faction are in a bid to out-do themselves in speculating about who warned Cardinal Burke against coming.

I have every respect for Daphne McLeod, in fact we owe her a debt; she has tirelessly alerted Catholic parents to the Religious Education shambles. There is something of St Catherine of Sienna about her. In her letter, she describes to Cardinal Burke that she took an RE book to this Pope, and that he ‘got really angry about it, lifted it three times above his head and slammed it down on the table saying “There is a heresy on every page, how can it have an Imprimatur?”
  But surely, the issue about the bishops of England and Wales sanctioning (ok – by delegation) the use of some textbooks should have been kept separate to the advertising of the Cardinal’s talk? The fact is Cardinal Burke has little or no direct jurisdiction over the bishops of our chilly island nation. Daphne McLeod in her letter to Cardinal Burke has been frank that she approved the wording on the flyer because she considered it ‘the plain truth’. But, does the flyer not give the impression that Cardinal Burke was coming to chastise the bishops and give them slaps on the wrist?  Many point to a lack of ‘diplomatic nous’, but what about prudence? The flyer made it sound as though Cardinal Burke corroborated this criticism of the England and Wales Church hierarchy.
Allow a basic example; imagine if a school invited a politician to speak but advertised the talk by giving strident (and maybe deserved) criticism of the members in the politician’s party. The politician may be forced to drop the talk – because if he gives the talk he is ‘siding with’ or helping the school that gave bad publicity to his party. Yes, this is simplistic in the extreme, but it helps illustrate my point.
Is it just me that sees a disparity in the way Daphne McLeod’s letter states, ‘Rather as you yourself do, we sometimes call the Bishops generally to account.’ Am I taking matters too far, or is this trying to put PEeP and Cardinal Burke on the same page? The difference is that Cardinal Burke has held the office of bishop. No one in PEeP has. Cardinal Burke is known for being vocal and out-spoken – he came into the public gaze during the 2004 American presidential elections when he said that Democratic candidate John Kerry and Catholic politicians who support abortion may not be given the Eucharist. But Cardinal Burke’s courage in speaking out, does not change the fact that he has little authority over our bishops. And if he does speak out, he may do so himself, a flyer from a UK organisation should never act as his mouthpiece.
 Fr John Boyle has written that the Cardinal was left with no choice, and Linen On The Hedgerow writes; Cardinal Burke ‘saw the proposed talk, quite rightly, as being an excellent opportunity for PEeP to lambast the Bishops’.  
The problem with such an episode as this, is that ‘Orthodox Catholics’ risk losing credibility. The cancelled talk is being called an ‘embarrassment’, and it’s horribly mortifying for all involved.


  1. Excellent! Thank you. Though I have sympathy for Daphne....still working hard at 83 years of age

  2. Yes, Daphne has amazing stamina, and committment, God bless her always.

  3. It isn't irrational to think that someone / some people who dislike Daphne's work were anxious to stop this talk going ahead. In that regard, there has been heated speculation. I for my part was guilty of participation in this discussion. I hope, though, that my comments were not merely idle speculations.

    Having said that, after posting comments on the Catholic Herald article you refer to, I visited PEeP's website and read both the Cardinal's letter and Daphne's response. When I realised what had been printed on one of the leaflets - which must have come my way at some point, though I seem to have missed its contents - it was entirely obvious why the Cardinal had to withdraw. The language used - as Daphne seems to accept in her response to the Cardinal - was very undiplomatic and unnecessary.

    In that sense then, and possibly due to over-excitement at having persuaded Card Burke to attend its Conference, PEeP seems to have been it own worst enemy. I am a great supporter of Daphne's work and am more than happy for her to keep money I paid for the original Conference ticket. I also offer my prayers for her intentions, especially now that PEeP has been left with some financial problems after Card Burke's withdrawal. Having said that, the priest who will now address the Conference seems like he's a conspiracy theorist (I read an article of his on Fatima), so I am not sure whether I will attend.

    (By the way, Mary, I was at Rome for the bloggers meeting. I believe you organised another meeting for the Tuesday? I come across your meeting's promotion, and am sorry I couldn't attend - I had to go home on the Monday evening).

  4. @Reluctant Sinner, thank you for your forthright comment. I didn't organise a post Blogmeet meeting on May 3rd. In fact, I don't remember ever organising a meeting in my life... Organising events isn't my strong point!

  5. Yes, good points all well made. I agree that we owe Daphne Macleod a great debt. That makes it all the more bitter that PEeP apparently fouled up.

  6. @ Mary

    LOL - Just goes to show how confused I can be! Sorry.

    I've just reread about the other bloggers meeting, and apparently the organiser was someone called Hilary White - who, rather embarrassingly, I think I met at the "official" meeting in the Vatican!

    Thanks for an excellent blog!

  7. Don't agree at all. Or with the general thrust of the above posters. PEEP has been far more trenchant (my word) over several episodes in the past 15 years (at least): i.e. prior to the invitation extended to His Eminence. I cannot believe that a leading cardinal would accept an invitation to address a group like PEEP without knowing its track record. Unless we're suggesting that His Eminence - the prelate in charge of the Apostolic Signatura, no less - is so naive (if he is, then you have to wonder about that office)? No, let's be clear: His Eminence will have known all about PEEP and its escalating disenchantment with the bishops of England & Wales prior to accepting the invitation. To suggest that he has then performed a volte-face purely on the basis of a flyer is flimsy in my opinion. Certainly I believe the tenor of PEEP's flyer is a convenient distraction here. The truth of the matter, though, is hidden in plain sight as His Eminence adverts to at the very start of his regret letter. He has been advised by a group of devout Catholics, he says, and, clearly, given the late stage of his withdrawal, it must have been quite recently. For I don't believe he would be so callous as to leave it so late unless the episode actually occurred so lately. His Eminence has put his faith in these mystery whoevers and that, of course, is his right.

    I also disregard the analogy with the hypothetical politician's speech. You cannot compare matters relatively trivial and temporal with issues pertaining to Christ's Truth and the need for it to be proclaimed without distortion. We need to stop this obsession with diplomacy and its osmotic secular influence on Church matters.

    Finally, the book that is referred to in the infamous Ratzingerian slam instance (Clare Richards' Roman Catholic Christianity) had its imprimatur removed at Christmas 1997. It's now 14 years later and we're still dealing with its grisly tentacles. Obdurate is a fine word to use when one wishes to describe a prevailing mindset that is, well, obdurate.

  8. Hi Gregory, Thank you for a very meaty comment. All the same, it was reckless of PEEP to bring Cardinal Burke in as some sort of quasi ally in their struggles with the bishops. Their struggle with some of the E & W bishops could have co-existed with a successful talk from Cardinal Burke. The fact is that they used the publicity surrounding the talk to bash the bishops – and when they did that – could they expect a Cardinal of such high standing to back them?
    ‘Obdurate’ is a word that we are all free to use, but impolite to say the least, and there are legal canonical processes for appealing against a bishop’s decision, and as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, His Eminence Card. Burke upholds these: Can. 212 #3 gives the faithful the right and even the duty "to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, [through various means of communication?] without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals [i.e. their observations must be in accordance with Catholic teaching], with reverence towards their pastors [i.e. not calling them names publicly] and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons." and "according to the knowledge, competence and prestige which they possess" [i.e. if they are competent in the field they are commenting].

  9. Oh, and dust on your tickets isn't a big deal either. You can buy a feather brush and it'll come right off! :-D

  10. Thank-you for your response, Mary. Too glib, I guess, to say "we'll just have to agree to disagree". At least, unlike some other blogs, you're addressing this hideous matter forensically. I don't think PEEP acted recklessly. Edgy? Perhaps. With astonishing frankness? Certainly. Searing? Definitely. Could "obdurate" have been avoided? Well, of course. But not if you wish to convey obduracy - I genuinely cannot think of a better term to describe the prevailing trends of the past two decades (at least).

    For whilst everyone is concentrating on the word "obdurate" (and I would say it's only potentially impolite when used falsely and without context; PEEP, in my view, used it correctly), have we forgotten the timeline of the 1991 ad limina and the progression of "Weaving the Web" (WtW), "Here I Am" (HIA) and then latterly "Roman Catholic Christianity" (RCC)? Have we forgotten how the English & Welsh bishops - and particularly the Liverpool delegation - were thoroughly lambasted by Pope John Paul II on matters educational, only for them to routinely ignore him? There's been at least 20 years of this educational subterfuge since then - a child of 11 then is now 31 and perhaps a parent - and we're honestly now boiling things down to the use of a single word, "obdurate", on a flyer?

    On such things does the saving of young souls really rest?

    I accept your positing Canon 213(3) but not necessarily your parenthetical analyses (e.g. I don't accept the charge of name calling) and perhaps, winding the clock back to 1992, if PEEP had claimed that the E&W hierarchy back then was being "obdurate" then it might not necessarily have had the weight of time to support its position (though many would argue about the period 1971-91). But now that we've been through the whole Konstantinian revolution of the 90s (*), WtW, HIA and RCC and its subsequent "Imprimaturgate" and then out the other side with no discernible improvement at all, then PEEP most definitely has the chronological benefit to substantiate its justifiably terse use of "obdurate".

    But perhaps we're now drilling down to the salient points about this sorry episode (leaving aside the flyer diversion [my opinion] and its all-too-easy headline option):

    1) Why did His Eminence accept PEEP's invitation?
    2) Did he know or not know about PEEP's previous activities and its rhetorical reputation for communicating in blunt truth, i.e. he really didn't know about the Ratzingerian triple slam true story?
    3) Why did His Eminence frame the title of the talk he was to give, on English soil, as the "restoration" of "discipline", with its obviously pointed corollary?
    4) The devout Catholics who advised His Eminence in the last few weeks: who were they, when did this happen and by what means?
    5) Why did he not give PEEP the chance to re-assure him (the timeline is clear that he didn't)?
    6) How much did a prior episode, when Cardinal Burke felt (sic) that he had to apologise to the US bishops (2009), bear on this matter?

    For what it's worth: I believe that ultimately the devout Catholics who dissuaded His Eminence from speaking to PEEP will realise they have scored an own goal. For I feel certain now that this sorry episode, in every aspect, may serve to prompt yet another Roman scrutiny of English and Welsh Catholic education (although, given how the matter of the Soho Masses has been ignored by Rome, one wonders). Having said that, what would Rome do if it found that Catholic education in England & Wales is still severely lacking in Truth? Reprimand the hierarchy at the next ad limina? As per 1991? When it was ignored?

    Last word to you, Mary (well it is your blog, after all!)


    (*) Now a quite unwell man, I believe, who is in need of prayers.


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