Archbishop Burke

Did the Bishops Punish Archbishop Burke?

Deal W. Hudson

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Archbishop Raymond Burke (St. Louis) lost an election at the annual meeting of the U.S. bishops last week.

Over the past three years, Burke has assumed the mantle of the late Cardinal John O’Connor in pro-life matters, challenging fellow bishops to take stronger stances in the defense of innocent life.

Nominated as chairman for the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, 60 percent of his fellow bishops preferred his opponent. As bishops’ conference expert Rev. Thomas Reese noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, an auxiliary bishop defeating an archbishop for a conference chairmanship is “very unusual.”

Archbishop Burke’s credentials as a canonist are widely recognized. In fact, he missed the bishops’ meeting because he was in Rome as a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest judicial authority.

Burke has been a controversial figure since early 2004 when, as bishop of La Crosse, WI, he began to challenge pro-abortion Catholic politicians publicly on their reception of the Eucharist.

Shortly after moving to St. Louis as archbishop, Burke said he would deny Communion to Sen. John Kerry if he presented himself. Although his position has been backed up by 13 other bishops, Archbishop Burke was clearly straining the boundaries of “collegiality.”

Father Reese, former editor of America magazine, says the bishops were sending a message: “Most of the bishops don’t want communion and Catholic politicians to be a high-profile issue, and he [Burke] is seen as a man who’s pushing that issue. . . . Had he been elected, it could have been interpreted as endorsing his position.”

Archbishop Elden Curtiss (Omaha), Archbishop Sean O’Malley (Boston), and Cardinal Francis George (Chicago) went on the record denying that there was any message being sent by the bishops to Burke. And supporters of Archbishop Burke have no reason to regret the selection of Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the Chicago auxiliary, whose reputation and credentials are similar to that of Burke’s.

The question still in the air after the bishops’ meeting, however, is whether Burke is being punished for not backing down after the controversy surrounding him during the 2004 election.

In response to the Kerry and Communion controversy, the bishops formed a task force, headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to study the issue and present a report. That report, “Catholics in Political Life,” differed sharply with Burke, finding that each bishop could decide for himself in such cases.

Archbishop Burke did not back down. Early this year, he published an article on Canon 915 in Italian law journal Periodica de Re Canonica arguing that the McCarrick report was incorrect.

Burke said that a bishop’s interpretation of what to do in the face of a pro-abortion Catholic politician “would hardly seem to change from place to place.” For Burke, enforcing discipline must go hand-in-hand with teaching:

No matter how often a bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the Church regarding procured abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports legislation permitting the gravest of injustices, and at the same time, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, then his teaching rings hollow.

He gave the names of bishops with whom he disagreed: Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Roger Mahony (Los Angeles), and Archbishop Donald Wuerl Washington, DC. Just as it’s very unusual for an archbishop to be defeated by an auxiliary bishop in an election, it’s just as unheard of for a bishop to take issue with another bishop by name.

In his article, however, Burke spread the net even wider. He argued that any Catholic who administers Communion – even a lay person – is required to withhold it from Catholic politicians who know they hold positions contrary to Church teaching.

Burke has said publicly that he will not stop addressing this issue. In an interview with Catholic News Service shortly after the 2004 election, he said:

It’s funny because some people now characterize me as a fundamentalist, or an extremist . . . . But these are questions that are at the very foundation of the life of our country. We just simply have to continue to address them.

The archbishop of St. Louis has been true to his word. His article on Canon law formalized his objection to McCarrick’s report.

If Father Reese is right, the bishops are distancing themselves from a fellow bishop who kept controversy in the air, a controversy most of them would rather see go away.

The bishops’ own document from last week, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was a powerful indictment of Catholics who participate politically without demanding an end to abortion. Archbishop Burke, though he was not at the meeting, and though he will not chair the canonical affairs committee, must be given some credit for the strength of the bishops’ corporate voice in this statement.

Published at InsideCatholic.com, November 19, 2007

Charity, Civility, and Speaking the Truth

Deal W. Hudson
Published September 21, 2009

The funeral of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy provoked a highly charged debate among Catholics about civility. In the midst of this discussion, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, came to Washington, D.C., to be honored by InsideCatholic.com at its 14th Annual Partnership Dinner at the historic Mayflower Hotel.

Addressing more than 200 guests, Archbishop Burke said, “We must speak the truth in charity,” but also, “We should have the courage to look truth in the eye and call things by their common names.” The tension between these two admonitions is evident in his own heroic defense of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and his personal humility.

Frank Hanna, a Catholic businessman and philanthropist from Atlanta, noted this in his introduction of the honoree. Before ever meeting Archbishop Burke, Hanna said he thought of him as a lion, whose roar “would send chills of admiration” down his spine. But, when he finally met the man one day in Birmingham, he noted:

I was struck by his simple humility. He greeted me with kindness and warmth. And I thought to myself, that’s how lions are – no waving about, just quiet humble strength. There is a reason C. S. Lewis made Aslan, the lion, his hero.

Indeed, it is hard not to be struck by the gentle demeanor of the bishop who caused such a ruckus in the 2004 election by saying he would deny communion to presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry. Since then, he has remained one of the most outspoken American bishops on the subject of the defense of life and marriage.

Friday evening in Washington was no different. Throughout his 50-minute address, the archbishop returned again and again to the scandal of Catholic politicians who support abortion or same-sex marriage. He did not mince his words: “It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself in this manner.”

“Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians,” said Archbishop Burke. “To deny these is not a judgment of the soul, but a recognition of the scandal and its effects.”

With obvious reference to the Kennedy funeral, he argued that when a politician is associated “with greatly sinful acts about fundamental questions like abortion and marriage, his repentance must also be public.” He added, “Anyone who grasps the gravity of what he has done will understand the need to make it public.”

It’s not uncharitable to point out the scandal caused by these Catholic politicians. “The Church’s unity is founded on speaking the truth in love. This does not destroy unity but helps to repair a breach in the life of the Church.”

Archbishop Burke rejects all the standard arguments made by Catholic politicians and their apologists who support abortion and same-sex marriage. For example, the defense of the unborn and traditional marriage is not strictly a matter of religious faith. “The observance of the natural law is not a confessional practice – it’s inscribed in every human heart.”

Archbishop Burke describes the latest tactic of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, who talk about finding common ground, as a form of “proportionalist moral reasoning.” “Common ground is found rather on ‘the ground of moral goodness,’ and not in a compromise of certain moral truths, like the rejection of abortion and euthanasia.”

He warned against allowing this kind of false reasoning to enter the health-care debate. A Catholic cannot accept the attainment of universal health care if it includes abortion and other evils “just because it achieves some desirable outcomes.”

In this form of reasoning, the archbishop hears an echo of the type of “seamless garment” argument that conceals a distinction between intrinsically evil acts and those that may be evil in some situations; these acts “are not all of the same cloth.”

The standing ovation for Archbishop Burke lasted several minutes before Raymond Arroyo, the master of ceremonies and news director of EWTN, returned to the podium. Once again, as Hanna put it in his introduction, Archbishop Burke had “stood up for the Church and her teachings, in the face of violent world criticism and even some within the Church.”

As InsideCatholic.com editor Brian Saint-Paul handed Archbishop Burke the award for “Service to the Church and our Nation,” I commented that, “This lion speaks with the voice and face of a lamb, and, thus, is an example of how to speak the truth in charity.”