Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Struggle For Dominance Inside The American Hierarchy

Archbishop Raymond Burke, the de facto pope of the Republican Catholic Church, has added his voice to the Kennedy funeral debate, health care reform and of course abortion and gay marriage. Not surprising, he differs significantly from his less politically inclined fellow bishops.

Vatican Official: Church Erred in Holding Kennedy Funeral
David Gibson, Politics Daily- 9/22/09

The tug-of-war over Ted Kennedy's soul seems to be eternal. In a speech last Friday night to a gathering of Catholic conservatives at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, an outspoken American archbishop now heading the Vatican version of the church's Supreme Court said that politicians who support gay marriage or abortion rights cannot receive sacraments without publicly repenting their ways:

"It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself in this manner," said Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, whom the pope transferred to Rome in 2008 after Burke's often-stormy tenure as archbishop of St. Louis. "Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians," Burke said. "To deny these is not a judgment of the soul, but a recognition of the scandal and its effects." (AB Burke wasn't to adept at recognizing scandal in his handling of abuse cases for the Archdiocese of St. Louis or Lacrosse WI. In fact he stated canon law trumps civil law and refused to report abusers to criminal authorities.)

The remarks come from an account of the 50-minute speech by Deal Hudson, director of, a conservative Web site that hosted the Sept. 18 annual gala for some 200 supporters. (Among them: American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, the National Review's Kate O'Bierne, and Ed Whelan, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.) Hudson was an adviser to the Bush White House on Catholic issues.

Burke's blast is not exactly a surprise, given his track record of sharp criticism of pro-choice Catholic politicians -- he has said they should be barred from taking Communion and has encouraged ministers who distribute the Eucharist to withhold it on their own initiative. Burke has not been shy about exhorting fellow bishops he sees as too lenient, either, as he did in this March interview with Operation Rescue's Randall Terry. (Burke later regretted that Terry had aired the videotape.) And he is a favorite speaker of Beltway conservatives, having given the keynote at last May's National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. (This was another one of his decisions which caused scandal to the Church and for which he did sort of kind of apologize.)

But for Burke, now a prominent official in the Vatican's judicial system, to -- in effect -- openly oppose the judgment of Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley (and most other bishops) regarding sacraments for Kennedy and other Catholic pols, and to, in effect, give aid and comfort to a Catholic right that has stepped up criticism of the hierarchy to fierce levels, is remarkable. Burke did not just say that politicians like Kennedy should not be provided a private funeral; he advocates denying them a funeral Mass at all.

Cardinal O'Malley earlier this month rejected that course of action "in the strongest terms," as he wrote in a blog post that was an unusually blunt response to critics of his decision to allow Kennedy a funeral Mass and to preside at it:

"We will stop the practice of abortion by changing the law, and we will be successful in changing the law if we change people's hearts. We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief and loss," O'Malley wrote.

"At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church."

In his well-received speech last Friday -- the standing ovation lasted seven minutes -- Burke rejected such an approach."We should have the courage to look truth in the eye and call things by their common names." He added that for a politician who support abortion rights and gay rights, for example, to return to the sacraments, "his repentance must also be public."
(Apparently this same standard doesn't apply to public scandal by clerics. Those must be kept secret and in the province of the confessional.)

Burke also rejected concerns that speaking out as he has is fomenting divisions within the church, and at the highest levels.

"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." (Personally, I think Burke and his conservative cronies are purposely fomenting schism.)

Still, Pope Benedict XVI's exchange of letters with Kennedy seemed to indicate a pastoral concern for the dying senator that contrasts with Burke's approach, and few bishops -- from Rome to Boston -- believed Kennedy should have been denied a funeral. Yet during his Washington visit Burke also appeared on FOX News to denounce the Baucus bill on health care reform as "certainly not acceptable" because he said it provides funding for abortions (that point is disputed).

He also said the current proposals threaten a "subtle introduction into health care of euthanasia." With the apparent push-back on health care reform from the Catholic center, it seems clear there is a struggle for dominance inside the Catholic hierarchy in America, and one that does not appear to be ending anytime soon.


I sometimes wonder if Archbishop Burke isn't a soul mate of Sarah Palin. Maybe they have such similar thinking because they get the same talking points from the same right wing 'values' voters groups. The very same values voters who think health care reform is like number nine of their list of concerns.

Burke's bought and paid for political appearances are getting so predictable they are virtually not worth writing about, except that they are beginning to engender a push back from the Center. David Gibson's post linked in the last paragraph is a pretty good read, summing up some of the voices that have been raised about the polemical attitudes of the Burke's of the American Catholic scene.

I have to admit though, that I laughed when I read Burke's statement that gay marriage advocates are not worthy of communion or funerals unless they publicly apologize. This is coming from the same person who took the final vows of a transgendered male into a convent of nuns he first supported and then wound up suppressing, the Franciscan Servants of Jesus. It's amazing what secrecy and canon law will allow when one is the sole interpreter for one's diocese.

What's more amazing is how bishops like Burke, Martino, and Chaput can insist on their own primacy in their own dioceses while castigating other bishops for how they run their dioceses. Cardinal O'Malley must be having serious empathy for Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame. Seems like mercy or compassion are no longer operative in the pro life or family values movement--nor consistency for that matter, it's all do as I say, not as I do.

I really have come to believe that the conservative movement in American Roman Catholicism won't be satisfied until they have promulgated a formal schism, either on their own or through pushing the center and left completely out of the Church. What I don't fully understand is what the movers and shakers behind this push actually hope to accomplish unless it's the complete silencing of the official voice of Roman Catholicism when it comes to social justice issues. This is the only thing which makes any sense. It's pretty obvious in the health care reform debate. Abortion is being used as the excuse to derail any reform at all. The only people who benefit from that are the health industry and people who have stock portfolios heavy with health industry investments. It's certainly no positive for the Catholic health care system as Cardinal Wuerl has recently pointed out.

But when it comes to receiving awards from the Republican branch of Catholicism, solidarity with the rest of American Catholicism is a very distant second for Archbishop Burke. As long as he spouts their official line, Republicans turn a very blind eye to some of his peculiarities, as he apparently does to theirs.
This hypocrisy of convenience needs to be engaged and countered. It's great to see some of our more centrist bishops are finally coming to the same conclusions.


  1. The schism idea is interesting. My husband and I were talking this morning that never in our 60+ years as Catholics have we been told, "you are not real Catholics", "If you can't follow the teachings, just leave", your kind are not welcome here", "what you believe is sinful", and more. The dialog is not about different opinions, it is more about "you need to leave, this is OUR Church".
    I grew up in a mixed religion family where discussions got animated when aunts and uncles were visiting, but no one was asked to leave the table.

  2. Here is what you miss about orthodox Catholics: When the liberal Catholic makes their case regarding its basket full of complaints (hierarchy, female priests, same-sex marriage, you know the rest)there is a push back. Not a push for a schism(that is pretty left field), but instead to say the lib. Cath. is wrong based upon doctrine.

    They make their case no different than you do. Sometimes with reason, sometimes with anger. Again, the method is no different than what you and your readers do here every day. Just the other side of the coin.

    This orthodox reaction is also no different than what finds in Catholic history. When there was Arianism, the church responded. Same with the Protestant revolt.

    Each age presents challenges to the teachings of the church. In a hundred years (or less), the liberal Catholic agenda will be spent and soemthing new will arise. So it goes. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

  3. "Same as it ever was" is an insufficient response - if it's true, then the church is doomed to irrelevance and extinction. But it's wrong. It's not the same for Catholic officials to be carrying water for right-wing politicians, or any politicians in this country. these guys became intoxicated with the thought they they too could be political powermongers, and forgot they were servants of God rather than of the Republican party.

  4. Elastico, I understand the point you are making and don't deny at all that there is truth in it.

    The difference that I see, at least from forty years ago, is that conservatives have kind of flipped things around. Back then the attitude was more, 'this is not MY church anymore' and most of them adapted or left. My mother was a case of one who grudgingly adapted, but as time went on really appreciated the change in attitude towards humanity in general, even if not so much the Mass.

    Now conservatives are claiming the Church is theirs and the rest of us can leave, die, or assimilate. The problem is once one has passed beyond a certain point on the spiritual path, you can not go back. My mother came grudgingly forward because she saw and felt that the church had become more compassionate and humane. That was a good thing that took her beyond slavish adherence to doctrine.

    What's happening now is exactly the opposite. People are being asked to go backwards. That won't happen for people who have integrated the spirit of the law as opposed to adherence to the letter of the law. I can't state this enough, once you have reached a certain understanding of spirituality you can not go back.

    That's why I truly believe if something doesn't give, there will be a schism.

  5. I don't know that there will be a schism. I want to know. What is the church going to be like when the Raymond Burke's with their great pastoral sensitivity drive another 31 million people from the holy roman catholic church.

  6. Well said-I have thought for a long time Archbishop Burke is an ecclesiastical bully, and agree the Catholic Right wants to foment a schism. Frank Cocozzelli addressed this not long ago in Talk to Action. One thing you both note-this has not only religious but also political repercussions.

  7. Makes me wonder if there will be Communion fights in some Churches. That sort of denial of Communion to certain politicians stinks to high heavens. To bring this sort of politics into the House of God is just disgusting to even think about.

    Has the Pope agreed to this denying Communion? Who is Burke? The second Pope for the right wing? Sounds like he is the ring leader of a schism.

  8. I don't see the 'love it or leave it' trend running as deep or as broad as you suggest.

    What I mostly see among the rank and file, particularly the orthodox, is a real interest in deepening their faith through prayer groups (The cenacles based upon the diary of St. Fauastina and Divince Mercy are spreading rapidly) and bible studies (based upon the organized efforts of Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins. Cavins is getting requests for four programs a day from churches around the US. He now has 2300 bible study programs out there). The young priest in my parish is offering a 6 week study on prayer based upon the Cathecism. The room is packed each week.

    The underlying basis of these is the current teaching of the church. But the main emphasis is how to become a humbler and holier person. Yes, obedience is emphasized in each, but not as a minion with pitchfork or as a robot, but instead as an active obedience that submits to the Almighty and is an emulation of each member of the Holy Family.

    I don't doubt there are some who have taken the approach you mention. For myself, I am always confused why anyone stays in any organization that they consider to be so fundmentally flawed and contradictory (and sinful?).

    When you mention the emerging church, I see something different. I see the grassroots mobilizing but on bended knees. I guess it depends from 'where one stands', or in this case, from where one is kneeling.

    (Francis P., I was just trying to be cute and clever in my last lines in my first post. Combining a Vonnegut line with the Talking Heads. The point is still the same--the church and its teachings have had unbelievable challenges in every age. Maybe this one will implode it or doom it. My wager is it won't based upon its history and that little 'gates of hell' promise from Christ.)

  9. Elastico, the upsurge in personal piety is exactly the same strategy employed by Pio NoNo and is considered one of the major causes of the exodus of males out of the pews in the late 19th century.

    Burke's siding with corporate wealth is the other strategy employed at that particular time. It mirrors Pio NoNo's taking the church politically to the right in support of the vision of his wealthy supporters. These two trends have been fostered before and they have proved very costly for the Church. They have precipitated large losses of membership in the West, and economic devastation in the South, especially in Latin America.

    It's happening all over again. See Honduras in which Opus Dei finger prints are all over the coup.

    When the Church has it's faithful on it's knees, preoccupied with personal salvation and holiness, the demand of Christ to take care of the least of us, takes a very back seat and the rich folk wreak havoc amongst the flock in the name of God. Favorite excuse is "the poor will be with you always".

    Two last thoughts. The Talking Heads is one of my all time favorite groups and sometimes I think the Orthodox are convinced that dissent and lack of personal prayer go hand in hand. Not at all true.

  10. Colleen, great reporting. You always manage to come up with amazing facts I have never seen--a testament to your ability to dig out information from all kinds of sources. I knew nothing about Burke's Franciscan convent with its transgendered novice.

    About the schism idea: I'm convinced by Frank Cocozzelli's argument, about which I blogged a day or so ago. He thinks those driving this schism want it primarily for political reasons, to identify the church (and its small cohort of same-thinking true believers) with neocon economic and political values, so the Catholic church stops being a thorn in the side of unbridled capitalism.

    I think he's right in this analysis.

  11. Ah, at last common ground--The Talking Heads. Best live band I have seen. Here a something for your war zone blog:

    Talk among yourselves.

  12. Forgot one last thing: buy the DVD Stop Making Sense. Great concert music and artistically filmed by Demme.

  13. Hey, Elastico, great link, great music! Hot! Sizzling! Glad we've found some common ground!!

  14. ## I *cannot* be the only person with a *very* low opinion of Abp. Burke...

    "Failing to enforce Canon 915, said Burke, means pro-abortion politicians – such as Sen. John Kerry, who published several photographs of himself receiving Communion from Papal representatives – are able to send a message to Catholic voters that they are in good standing with the Church despite supporting abortion, which the Church considers an intrinsic evil.

    “What are they doing? They're using the Eucharist as a political tool,” said Burke."

    Now that takes some beating...

    Warning: Catholicism is bad for your blood pressure

  15. Rat, this sure does look like another Republican Catholic website. The Legion of St. Michael is another rightwing cult favored by EWTN. They are based out of the Detroit parish I was baptized at. That Michael sure does have a sense of humor.

  16. Anyone who incurs the wrath of Bubba Burke, American Prince of the Clerical Drag Queens, must be doing something right.

    Jim McCrea

  17. Elastico: if it weren't for the Protestant "Revolt," Catholicism would have been a dead dry husk long before now.

    Be thankful that many foreparents in faith had the cojones to speak truth to corruption and power.

    Jim McCrea

  18. 1. What is the Legion of St. Michael?
    There are so many new trad/conservative groups I feel like I am lost in a time warp....O.o

    2. What was done to the Church over the last 45 years was NOT merely the (phony) construct of a battle between Liberal & Conservative. It is actually best explained in Marxist imagery (author long forgotten:

    It is like plowing furrows - first one way, then back the other way. It does not matter the direction; what matters is that the soil is prepared to receive the seed.

    At the same time it can be likened to stroking a cat's fur. It is used to having it stroked in only one direction. Stroke it the other way for a while & it becomes confused, even angry...slightly disoriented.

    Now, return to stroking in the "expected' fashion. The cat rejoices.

    The 'seed'is faith in God. Stir them up & confuse them with Liberal Vs Conservative - especially with (intentional....) wild extremes, effected by 'plants'. Stir them this way & that, ripping & twisting them from one viewpoint or extreme to the other. Keep confusing & agitating the the seed will not grow.

    Likewise with our 'cat', they will be so glad to be stroked in the 'usual manner', that they will see nothing wrong.

    Obviously, that which is truly loving, liberal & of the mind of Christ - that which lives the Gospel - is best. But ppl have now been conditioned that "Liberal = Bad; Conservative = Good".

    Many ppl have had their faith in God completely shredded by all this battling, confusion, & lack of love. They left the Church...and the Bishops truly do not care. For they have intentionally constructed a "new church" of the blindly obedient members of various cultic groups. And vast sums of money.

    These cults are what populates World Youth Day & Papal road trip events. They are often imported for this reason - as 'cheerleaders'. Masking that very few actually go to church.....!

    Burke is an Inquisitor - nothing more. Cruel & mentally sick, from observing his speech. There is nothing of the love of Christ about him. There are MANY just like him, in Rome & elsewhere......and very well organized. In all seriousness, they would relish a formal Inquisition.

  19. ## @colkoch:

    Any group that "induct[s]" *Catholic Answers*,of all groups,"into our Hall of Shame", must be pretty hyper-ultra-giganta-orthodox :)

    I wonder where that leaves We Are Church...


  20. rat-biter, I was struck by the fact they put "Catholic Answers" in their hall of shame as well. Maybe the Legion of Michael is in some sort of pissing match with CA for money from the same donors.

  21. A lot of great comments here. On another site one poster said that he wanted Cardinal Burke to be the first American Pope. Kind of hard for me to believe but then again perhaps it is comforting to know that some of these right wing people aren't really against having gay men in high positions in the Church. (as long as they have the right politics)