Monday, 16 December 2013

Cardinal Burke

In light of the storm in a Roman coffee cup stirred up by Pope Francis not renewing Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke's membership of the Congregation for Bishops, I thought it might be opportune to publish here a piece I wrote on him five-and-a--half years ago (May 2008). But first, some common sense.

When, shortly after Pope Francis was elected, it was announced that all superiors of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia were to continue in post donec aliter provideatur”, that is pending any future possible arrangements being made, in effect until further notice, one important point was not highlighted and only became clear when Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, sostituto (Secretary of State Substitute for General Affairs, effectively the Papal Chief of Staff) was interviewed by L’Osservatore Romano on May 1 (published May 2). The operation of the “quinquennium” had also been suspended.

Normally, appointments to positions within the Roman Curia are for a five year term (the quinquennium). This is stipulated by Article 5 §1 of Pastor Bonus: “The prefect or president, the members of the body mentioned in art. 3, § 1 (that is the dicasteries, the various departments of the Roman Curia), the secretary, and the other senior administrators, as well as the consultors, are appointed by the Supreme Pontiff for a five-year term.”

When Cardinal Burke was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Clergy it was doubtless felt that he was up to speed with who was who and what was what at home in the USA. After more than five years in Rome that quite clearly can no longer be the case. So why NOT get someone else in who DOES know what side is up?

I cannot for the life of me see any reason to regard this as some sort of purgation.

Anyway, back to what I wrote over five years ago (slightly edited).


Burke’s Law

Raymond Leo Burke did not exactly rise without trace to succeed His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali as Archbishop of St Louis.

His academic record alone makes him stand out from the clerical and, indeed, prelatial crowd. Majoring in Philosophy, he graduated BA and MA from the Catholic University of America (1970 and ’71 respectively); STB (Bachelor of Sacred Theology), Pontifical Gregorian University (1974); MA (Theology), Gregorian (1975); Licentiate in Canon Law (LCJ), Gregorian (1982); Diploma in Latin Letters, Gregorian (1983); Doctor of Canon Law (JCD, specialising in Jurisprudence), Gregorian (1984).

It is hardly surprising that Archbishop Burke’s only known hobby is reading!

Ordained priest in St Peter’s Basilica by one Pope ― Paul VI, on June 29, 1975 ― and bishop at the same venue by another ― John Paul II, on January 6, 1995 ― he had between times been appointed as both a visiting Professor of Canonical Jurisprudence at the Pontifical Gregorian University (1985-94) and (in 1989) the first American Defender of the Bond for the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (he succeeded Fr William O'Connell OFM; when Cardinal Winning returned to Scotland in 1966 and became my PP at St Luke's, North Forgewood, Motherwell, it was wrongly asserted that he was the only British priest who was an Advocate of the Sacred Roman Rota; obviously Fr Willie and he made two) (Pope Benedict would later appoint the by then Archbishop Burke a Member of the College of Judges of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, in July 2006). Pope John Paul II named him a Prelate of Honour (Rt Rev Mgr) on 12 August 1993.

On November 23, 2003, the Solemnity of Christ the King, while still Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Mgr Burke issued a Notification to the clergy of his diocese in which he pointed out that he was bound to be “solicitous for all the faithful entrusted to my care” (Code of Canon Law, canon 383 §1).

His went on to explain that in conformity with the teaching contained in Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, the document promulgated by the United States Conference of Bishops, he had “a fundamental responsibility of safeguarding and promoting the respect for human life” and, therefore, it was his duty “to explain, persuade, correct and admonish those in leadership positions who contradict the gospel of life through their actions and policies.

He reminded the clergy that His Holiness Pope John Paul II had frequently reminded us that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.” (Doctrinal Notes on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life [November 24,  2002, n4 §1])

The Notification then spells out the obvious: “A Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion or euthanasia, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others. Universal Church law provides that such persons are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (CCL, canon 915).

Within his then diocese, three Catholics active in politics ― two state representatives and a congressman ― had supported anti-life legislation and had ignored their bishop’s request for them to call on him and discuss the matter. Renewing his call for these Catholic legislators to “uphold the natural and divine law regarding the inviolable dignity of all human life”, Archbishop Burke reminded them again that to fail to do so “is a grave public sin and gives scandal to all the faithful” and he formally cautioned them that if they continued to support procured abortion or euthanasia then they “may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion.”

He then went further than any other member of the American hierarchy had previously done and instructed his clergy that if these legislators did present themselves for Holy Communion “they are not to be admitted…until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices.”

This created a sensation not merely in Wisconsin, and not solely within the Catholic Church, but throughout North America and, indeed, around the world. That sensation as well as spreading among the believers of other Christian communities, also stirred adherents of different religions and of none. And it didn't solely generate opposition.

The way of La Crosse

The American Life League, which with over 370,000 members is one of the biggest pro-life groups in the States, launched a campaign to mark the 31st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Wade-v-Roe which legalised abortion. It featured Mgr Burke’s clear and concise statement and, naturally, they called their campaign “The way of La Crosse”.

From scarcely being a household name in his own back yard, Mgr Burke soon rocketed not only onto the national, but also onto the international stage. For, no sooner had he been translated to the Archdiocese of St Louis, Missouri, than a supposedly Catholic Democratic candidate for the Presidency rolled into town. When asked by a local journalist what would happen if Senator John Kerry approached his altar rail at Communion, the newly installed archbishop could only give but one reply: “I would have to admonish him not to present himself for Communion. I might give him a blessing or something. If his archbishop has told him he should not present himself for Communion, he shouldn’t. I agree with Archbishop O’Malley.”

(Archbishop, now Cardinal, O’Malley, who had then but recently replaced Cardinal Law in Boston, had called on legislators who do not support the Gospel of Life to refrain of their own volition from presenting themselves for the Blessed Sacrament. But, of course, Archbishop Burke was going further.)

This, then, was one American Roman Catholic bishop prepared to refuse Holy Communion to a potential President of the United States of America. Inside the Vatican named him one of the top-ten People of the Year along with the likes of Mel Gibson and Dolores Hart. (“Dolores who?” You might well ask. Well, Dolores was in her younger days only the first ever actress to kiss Elvis Presley on screen. Now living the contented life of a Benedictine nun, many years later asked: “What is it like kissing Elvis?” She chuckled a bit at the memory and then said: “I think the limit for a screen kiss back then was something like 15 seconds. That one has lasted 40 years.” HT Wikipedia. )

But critics were not hard to find, especially among the ranks of the “liberal” Catholics.

William Bablitch, a former Justice of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, was quoted as having said: “Certainly the bishop has every right to express his own views to an elected official. But to invoke the moral authority of the Church in a threatening way (!) to a legislator seems to cross over a line that has been very carefully drawn and is very well respected in this country.”

Strange might it seem to us on this older side of the Atlantic that a Catholic judge would regard as being “threatening” a Bishop advising members of his flock of the mortal danger to their souls of their own actions. Thankfully, however, two Catholic American Professors of Law also found that odd.

Robert George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Programme in American Ideals at Princeton University, and Gerard Bradley is Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and President of the American Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In National Review Online they defended Archbishop Burke. 

They argued that since the Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress are professed Catholics who support the so-called “woman’s right to choose”, it was about time that a member of the American hierarchy spoke out. Noting that he has been called a “fanatic” ― surprise, surprise by a Professor of Theology at a Jesuit run University ― and of having “crossed the line” (see Bablitch above), they dismissed both ideas as being absurd. They pointed out that Archbishop Burke had merely exercised his constitutional right to the free expression of his religion and that in doing so he was “not denying others of their rights. No one is compelled by law to accept his authority. But Bishop Burke has every right to exercise his spiritual authority over anyone who chooses to accept it. There is a name for such people. They are called Catholics.”

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