Cardinal Burke’s visit to relic of the head of St. Thomas More: a “Heads up” to Pope Francis?

October 17, 2017 – (Steven O’Reilly) – On Sunday, October 15, Cardinal Burke visited St. Dunstan’s in Canterbury, England, according the National Catholic Register (see “Cardinal Burke Venerates Relic of the Head of St. Thomas More” by Edward Pentin). The purpose of the Cardinal’s stop at this parish church was to pray at the site where the head of St. Thomas More is buried. St. Thomas More, once Chancellor of England, was beheaded for opposing King Henry VIII in the dispute over the papal supremacy, the root cause of which centered on Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon – which More opposed.

Some folks have been rather harsh toward Cardinal Burke and the Dubia Cardinals throughout the Amoris Laetitia controversy, doubting that a formal correction will ever come. As one who has been impatient at times as well on this question, I think it unfair to be so. By acting with necessary and methodical patience over the past year, the Dubia Cardinals will demonstrate that any accusation they acted rashly is a lie. Instead, their patience will stand in favorable contrast to the Pope’s own silence.

So, what of the formal correction and its timing?  Of this I have no inside knowledge, obviously. That said, in my opinion, there is a primary and secondary purpose to the Cardinal Burke’s visit which do hint to us the public formal correction is coming very soon. First, St, Thomas More died for a cause related to the Church’s teaching on marriage – something for which the Dubia Cardinals are fighting. So, at this moment of Church history, it is noteworthy that Cardinal Burke ventured to pray where the head of the great Catholic martyr is buried, seeking – no doubt – the saint’s intercession for his own task.  In this sense, the visit was personal.

What of the secondary purpose? My guess (see here) is the formal correction was hand-delivered to Pope Francis in July or August and that the Pope – consistent to past form – has since refused to acknowledge it or even grant an audience to discuss it. Thus, the secondary purpose is a subtle gesture intended for Pope Francis – who follows the Cardinal’s moves – and its meaning will not be lost on the Pope. That is, given the Pope will not see the Dubia Cardinals in person, they are reduced to sending a public message to him. Therefore, I believe Cardinal Burke’s visit to St. Dunstan’s was – please excuse the pun – something of a “heads up!” to Pope Francis, i.e., ‘Your Holiness, the public formal correction is coming if you continue to remain silent.’ I see this as a last warning to Pope Francis to avert a crisis. My hunch remains that the formal correction is weeks away, not months.

As I have said before, I certainly hope Pope Francis will heed the corrections and warnings and spare the Church a certain catastrophe. It would be a catastrophe, but I have no doubt the Church would survive it – and emerge stronger. Let us pray Pope Francis remembers the Lord’s words to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He asks for your prayers for his intentions.  He can be contacted at (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA)


2 thoughts on “Cardinal Burke’s visit to relic of the head of St. Thomas More: a “Heads up” to Pope Francis?

  1. “I certainly hope Pope Francis will heed the corrections and warnings “.
    I am not so optimistic.
    Francis’ best tactic is in remaining silent while his supporters will continue striking day and night ad hominem attacks on these renegade cardinals who dare to challenge an infallible pope, while carfully avoiding to reply the dubia.
    What’s next after the fraternal correction is made public ? That is my only concern.


    1. Jacques, thanks for the comments. I am not a canon lawyer or expert on heresy trials. I do have a couple thoughts on this process. First, my opinion, as expressed in the article, is that continued, obstinate silence after a Formal Correction would imply consent to the heresy – and the Church can resist a heretic, even a heretical pope who after the appropriate number of canonical warnings and associated time periods could be declared deposed. This seems to have been the common understanding. I welcome someone with expertise in this area to express their more informed view in this space.

      The other thought I’d surface is that a public “formal correction” may serve another purpose. If Pope Francis were to pass away PRIOR to the conclusion of the canonical warning periods which might come his way; the Church will be in a difficult situation. Nearly half of conclave-eligible cardinals were created by Pope Francis. Presumably, they, and many other vote-eligible cardinals favored his election, and support his program on the divorce and remarried. It appears there is great potential for a split in the College of Cardinals. The minority could never vote for a candidate who support a heretical proposition – such as claiming it is licit to give communion to public adulterers living in a married way, or so it seems to me. Thus the formal correction might serve as way to “test” cardinals going into the conclave. The minority might need to remove themselves and vote for an orthodox pope, rather than vote with a heretical majority for a heretical pope.


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