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 InsideCatholic.com, 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.