Pope Francis and the Rumor Mill

December 20, 2013 09:00 AM

Events of the past few days have caught many Catholics by surprise. Either we were shocked or just confused by the announcement that Pope Francis had chosen not to renew Cardinal Raymond Burke’s membership to the Congregation of Bishops, but had instead named Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the group. When this change was first announced a few days ago, the Internet headlines and the blogosphere were rampant with pontificating of the sort that never leads to peace of mind, but often rallies sentiment unsuited to the occasion.

Blogger Thomas Peters weighed in pointing out that “Pope Francis has not hidden his intention of making the curia more efficient. . . . If you asked me to pick who has a better working knowledge of the makeup, demands, and expectations of the American episcopate right now, I would say the state-side Cardinal Wuerl, not Cardinal Burke who has been in Rome for half a decade at this point. So from one aspect, this is a move towards efficiency.”

The Christian Post opined, “Cardinal Raymond Burke’s departure from the Congregation of Bishops council and his subsequent replacement by the more moderate Wuerl is being viewed by some as Pope Francis moving the Catholic Church away from combating hot-button social issues and focusing on a more pastoral approach. Burke is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion, and has in the past said that moderates like Wuerl were ‘weakening the faith.’”

The Examiner cited the controversy surrounding Church law, Canon 915, that requires denying Holy Communion to Catholics who support actions, such as abortion, that are contrary to Catholic teaching. Wuerl does not obey this law; he does not agree that such actions should be taken. On the other hand, Cardinal Burke has been an advocate of all the reasons why that law must be obeyed and enforced. In that sense, Wuerl and Burke are polar opposites. 

The same Examiner article dug up a 2009 National Catholic Reporter piece that alleged that Cardinal Burke issued apologies to bishops for critical comments he had made during a taped interview with Randall Terry. The fact is that Burke apologized to all those, including bishops, who were under the impression he was being critical because 

I was never informed that the videotape would be used as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow bishops regarding the application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. 

If I had known what the true purpose of the interview was, I would never have agreed to participate in it.

So the rumors are swirling, the hypotheticals are mind-boggling, and the opinions are all over the ballpark. 

The bottom line is that nobody really knows all the facts, yet I wonder why some of us always wind up thinking the worst. It is almost as though Chicken Little herself has taken up residence in our ranks.

Perhaps the best thing we can do during the last five days of Advent is wait, watch, and pray. The words of Pope Benedict XVI hold the key: “Ours is an era that does not encourage recollection; indeed, one sometimes gets the impression that people are frightened of being cut off, even for an instant, from the torrent of words and images that mark and fill the day.” Pope Benedict continues: “Silence can carve out an inner space in our very depths to enable God to dwell there, so that His word will remain within us and love for Him take root in our minds and hearts and inspire our life. Hence the first direction: relearning silence, openness to listening, which opens us to the other, to the word of God.”

What we need at this crucial moment in the Church is that openness to listen.

By shutting out the madness, silence allows us to ponder, to learn, to reflect, and to seek God’s will. We need that now, as we pray for the Holy Father and for all those ordained to the priesthood.

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