If Pope Francis wants to change Church doctrine on divorce and gay marriage, he'll have to go through Cardinal Raymond Burke.
That shouldn't shock anyone who has followed Burke's career path since he left St. Louis as archbishop in 2008, especially since the cantankerous, ultra-conservative prelate mansplained his way into the headlines last month by blaming women and gay clergy for the Church's molestation crisis. In October, when it appeared -- for a moment -- that the Vatican was ready to make a "seismic shift" on gay rights in the church, Burke used it as an opportunity to publicly remind folks that expressions of gayness can damage children.
But Burke went further this week, telling a French news program that he would feel compelled to "resist" Pope Francis if the pontiff tries to soften Church doctrine.
Burke and the pope are hardly buddies, and much has been made of the pope's decision to remove Burke from his spot on the church's highest court. But Burke's recent sit-down with France2, which aired Sunday, is notable for the interviewer's blunt probing of rocky relationship between the two spiritual leaders.
"I cannot accept that Communion can be given to a person in an irregular union because it is adultery," Burke said, according to translation of the interview on the blog Rorate Caeli. "On the question of people of the same sex, this has nothing to do with marriage. This is an affliction suffered by some people whereby they are attracted against nature sexually to people of the same sex."
The interviewer later asked how Burke would try to direct the pope back to Church tradition.
"On this, also one must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope," Burke said. "The classic formulation is that, 'the pope has the plenitude, the fullness, of power.' This is true. But it is not absolute power. His power is at the service of the doctrine of the faith. And thus the pope does not have the power to change teaching, doctrine."
That's when the interviewer dropped his boldest question:
"If Pope Francis insists on this path, what will you do?"
"I will resist. I cannot do anything else," Burke answered. "There is no doubt that this is a difficult time, this is clear, this is clear."
The comment drew heavy coverage among Christian news services, to the point that the next day Burke told Catholic News Agency that he had been merely "responding to a hypothetical situation."
"I simply affirmed that it is always my sacred duty to defend the truth of the Church's teaching and discipline regarding marriage," Burke told CNA. "No authority can absolve me from that responsibility, and, therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist, in fidelity to my responsibility before God."
However, if you think that the Burke was the only sore spot for the Vatican over the weekend, you're in for a disheartening followup: The day before Burke's interview aired, members of Church's brand-new commission on clergy sex abuse castigated Pope Francis for telling a crowd that it was acceptable to smack their children as long as they avoided the face.