Saturday, July 5, 2008

Burke As The Ultimate Left Brained Champion

Article by John Allen for The National Catholic Reporter.

Since news of St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke’s appointment as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura was announced June 27, I’ve received numerous telephone calls and e-mails, from both sides of the Atlantic, posing some version of the following question: Was this a case of what the Italians call promuovere per rimuovere … promoting someone in order to get rid of him?
It’s a reasonable question, given Burke’s profile as a lightning rod in St. Louis.

Not only is he the American bishop most identified with the push to deny Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians, but he also engaged in very public spats involving rock star Sheryl Crow and basketball coach Rick Majerus.

Basically his last act as archbishop was to issue canonical penalties for Sister of Charity Louise Lears for her support of women’s ordination. While most of Burke’s fellow bishops, and certainly the Vatican, would share the substance of his positions, not everyone applauds his pugnacious way of advancing them.

So, was this a face-saving way of easing Burke out?
To be completely frank, my wife and I are in the middle of a move to Denver, so over the last few days my time has been more occupied with programming our garage door opener and selecting patio furniture rather than the machinations of ecclesiastical appointments. (Someday I’ll try to sort out which I find more puzzling.)

The following, therefore, is not based on any insider insight. Nonetheless, my hunch is that this is not a case of promuovere per rimuovere, but what one might call “promotion for multiple motives.” In no particular order, I suspect that at least the following four considerations were at work:

Fond memories of Burke in Rome: Burke spent three periods in Rome: from 1971 to 1975, studying at the Gregorian University; from 1981 to 1984, again at the Gregorian, completing his licentiate and doctorate in canon law; and then from 1989 to 1994, as the first American to serve as Defender of the Bond in the Apostolic Signatura. By all accounts, Burke was well known and highly regarded.

When I arrived in Rome in 1999, perhaps the most common question I got from Italians was whether I knew Burke. At the time he was still the bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, so the curiosity wasn’t driven by his prominence in the United States. Instead, the Italians had come to know Burke in Rome, especially through his work at the Signatura, and almost to a person they had fond memories of him.

They told me they found Burke hard-working and competent, but those are things they’d say about most Americans in the Curia. Beyond that, Burke struck them as gregarious, kind on a personal level, and comfortable with the rhythms of Italian culture.

While that alone would not justify placing Burke in charge of the Signatura, the fact that he’s seen as someone who can work well in the small world of the Vatican, in which personal relationships are crucially important, certainly doesn’t hurt.

Burke’s reputation as a canonist: Burke has long been considered perhaps the sharpest canon lawyer among the American bishops. By a near-universal consensus, Burke knows the canons and the case law that has grown up around them exceedingly well.

To be sure, that’s not to say everyone shares the particular conclusions he draws. In October 2007, for example, I interviewed Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and asked him about an article Burke had recently published in the canon law journal De Re Canonica, arguing that with regard to communion for pro-choice politicians, the church has sometimes emphasized canon 916, about the duty of the individual communicant, at the expense of canon 915, about the duty of the minister of the sacrament. The clear thrust was to suggest that if a pro-choice politician comes forward for communion, he or she should be turned away.

Here was George’s answer: “I think it’s a good canonical argument. But pastorally, you still have to decide what this means in the concrete cases we’re talking about… The question is, do you risk politicizing the sacrament? That’s my biggest concern. The very sacrament that speaks about our unity becomes the occasion for this kind of fracas and disunity. I think we should think long and hard before we allow the Eucharist to become that.”

A sign that Burke’s position on the communion issue does not command a majority among American bishops came at the fall 2007 meeting of the USCCB, where Burke was defeated in a race to become chair of the Committee on Canonical Affairs by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago. Burke drew just 40 percent of the vote.

One doesn’t have to share the legal philosophy of Antonin Scalia or Anthony Kennedy to recognize their judicial chops, however, and the same goes for Burke.

Moreover, Burke also knows the inner workings of the Rome tribunal system. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Burke as a bishop-member of the Signatura, a move widely seen in Rome as grooming him to eventually take over the court’s top job.

A strong Catholic identity appointment: Benedict XVI is notoriously immune to the normal sort of political calculus that goes into making appointments -- whose back is being scratched, which lines of patronage are being reinforced, and so on. At a big picture level, however, any pope has to be sensitive to ensuring that the various points of view and sensibilities in the church are represented at the level of senior management, and Burke’s nomination certainly represents a strong voice for traditional Catholic identity.

In a sense, Burke may fill the void left by the death of Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Lopez Trujillo was widely seen as the most ardent “cultural warrior” in the Vatican, while his successor, Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, is perceived as a much more “soft” and pastoral figure.

Appreciation for the United States: With Burke’s appointment, three important Vatican offices are now led by Americans: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal William Levada; the Apostolic Penitentiary, led by Cardinal Francis Stafford; and the Signatura, with Burke as the new prefect. That’s a clear sign of appreciation for the American church, a sentiment especially strong in Rome these days in the wake of what was considered a remarkably successful visit to America by Benedict XVI in April.

Broadly speaking, many senior Vatican officials are deeply pessimistic about the direction of the European Union, which they see as in the grip of a radical form of secularism. In that context, Vatican officials increasingly see the United States as their most natural conversation partner in global affairs -- a major world power shaped by the Christian heritage, home to the fourth largest Catholic community in the world, with a civil society in which churches are taken seriously and faith is afforded a vibrant public voice. The appointment of another American is confirmation of a tendency to look across the Atlantic for leadership. {This may prove to be a mistake, and in any case, what John is not saying here, is that the Vatican is looking to the US as the last bastion of traditional White European Christianity.}

More narrowly, Burke’s appointment is also an expression of respect for the canonical expertise of the American church. Traditionally, American canonists have been a bit suspect in Rome, seen as overly lax in granting annulments. (Notoriously, the United States has 6 percent of the world’s Catholics but generates 80 percent of the annulments granted each year, usually around 60,000.) That perception still endures in some quarters, but there’s also recognition that the Americans have made greater investments in training canonists and developing tribunals than any other local church in the world. Further, the sexual abuse crisis has forced Americans to develop greater familiarity with the penal sections of the Code of Canon Law. It’s no accident that two of the three Vatican courts are now led by Americans. {Apparently there are no penal sections in the Code of Canon Law which apply to bishops.}
Does all this mean that Burke’s reputation as a divisive figure in St. Louis played no role in the decision to send him to Rome?

Not necessarily. When Lopez Trujillo was appointed to the Council for the Family in 1990, it was widely understood that the move was motivated, in part, by controversies surrounding his role as the archbishop of Medellin. There is a bit of old Roman wisdom that you want sticklers for the rules, and for the teachings of the church, setting policy at a level beyond the limits of time and place, while more pastoral figures will decide how to apply those positions to the concrete situations posed by various cultures and historical moments. {I wonder if that had anything to do with soliciting and laundering drug money from the Medellin drug cartels, which Trujillo had no moral compunctions about. Apparently the rumors the drugs wreck families was just a rumor or something. Appointing Trujillo to lead the Council for the Family was somewhat ironic to say the least.}

The real test of whether there is a desire to place such a pastoral figure in St. Louis, of course, will come with the nomination of his replacement.
For that reason, the selection will be keenly anticipated -- not only because of the historical importance of St. Louis as a center of Catholic culture, but also because of broader indications it may offer about the tone Benedict XVI and his nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, want to set for the American church. {Since Burke's actions have elevated the profile of this archdiocese beyond that of New York, Boston, and Chicago this is more true than ever. However, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if his replacement was an auxiliary from Detroit, ala Nienstedt in Minneapolis. Cardinal Meada seems to have a lot of coin with the Vatican.}


I hate to keep posting on Burke but he really seems to be the lightening rod that John Allen says he is. AB Burke is the shield carrying hero of the dogmatic right, which means he is the shield carrying hero of left brained dominant people. I sometimes wonder if the right hemisphere of his brain functions at all. The problem with this is that left brain dominated people have a very difficult time with nuance and ambiguity, and an even more difficult time with people who can deal with nuance and ambiguity. My personal experience is that left brain dominated people tend to exceed their effective level of competence in positions in which they have to deal with people, and not numbers, rules, and things.

Most men genetically tend to be left brain dominated and women tend to be right brained dominant. Theoretically this is a complimentary arrangement, one which seems to have escaped the notice of our all male clerical system. I would be willing to bet that on any test of hemispheric dominance Burke would be way out on the left hand scheme of things. The problem is when one gets too far out on the left limb one sees things very definitely in black and white and then tends to make these opinions absolute and universally truthful.

I'm on the other end of things and can do a similar thing by elevating nuance and getting totally lost in both sides of an issue, unable to make a decision because it might be unfair to someone or somebody, no matter how fair it might be to the vast majority. Over time I've learned to pass my thinking by a complimentary left brained person and this has helped immensely and made me vastly more effective in making decisions and communicating them. I know I am going to get lost in the forest of trees, and look for a guide to get me out of it. AB Burke seems to get lost in the trees with no idea he's in a forest. The thing is if you don't know you're in a forest, you don't look for a guide to get you past the trees you're fixated on. I guess that's why he's so successful amongst the trees of Canon Law. Unfortunately he'll never see how some of those trees are choking off the forest they are supposed to be a supporting part of and actually constraining growth and renewal. So far this has caused vast numbers of trees in the forest to pull up root and take a hike.

Which brings me to another insightful comment in John's article: There is a bit of old Roman wisdom that you want sticklers for the rules, and for the teachings of the church, setting policy at a level beyond the limits of time and place, while more pastoral figures will decide how to apply those positions to the concrete situations posed by various cultures and historical moments. I'm not sure I find this particularly good wisdom. People like AB Burke may not be the best people to set policy at a level beyond the limits of time and place because their mode of intellect is stuck in time and place and they will try to absolutize and universalize the thinking of a particular time and place. The Church has been hugely victimized by this tendency and historically it takes them centuries to admit mistakes before finally caving into change. In my opinion this is the biggest reason the all male clerical culture has to change. By it's very male nature it is resistant to change, overly reliant on specific trees and far to apt to absolutize.

In closing I would like to bring up one more thing and that's the mess currently being played out in the Anglican Church. Gays and women bishops represent right hemispheric thinking, and believe me this is anathema to left hemispheric clerics wedded to rigidity and dogma. Not only do they not like it, they don't like it because it doesn't compute at all. Even the more moderate Anglican clergy are uncomfortable with the way the Lambeth conference is set up because this year it is a dialogue format rather than a rules and regulations format. It doesn't reflect the way their brains operate and there for makes them nervous.

Unfortunately the minute Jesus talked about getting beyond the letter to the spirit of a given law, He went from left brain imaging to right brain imaging. It's no wonder that our male dominated left brained authority figures gloss right over this distinction. They don't compute it.


  1. A fuller version of the following comments were posted on the previous thread (RE: Bishop Dupre & Sr.Lears).

    I'll also offer these comments here to respond to the question begged by this thread, Why are so many Roman hierarchs so left-brained in extemis?

    * * *

    The Vatican and its sycophants see dissent as a greater “scandal” than the rape of children because dissent threatens their grip on power; child-rape does not threaten their grip on power.

    This is truly pathetic. I’ve come to recognize a major pathological root of these dysfunctions -- that between a third and half of Roman priests and bishops are homosexual (Sipe, Cozzens, and other researchers) -- and that most of these are closeted and self-loathing.

    This explains their homophobic attitudes and projections onto others; it also explains the disproportionate numbers of male-child victims of sexual abuse. These self-loathing homosexuals suffered higher rates of arrested psycho-sexual development which led them to prey on children. Healthy homosexual men are not attracted to children.

    The Bishop Dupres of the church are busy fighting gay marriage while protecting pedophiles (if not abusing children themselves) because they are pathetic, arrested, self-loathing homosexuals.

    This high rate of self-loathing among closeted homosexual priests and bishops also feeds into their lust for power (as a subliminal substitution for affection), and their general emphases on sin and obedience (as projections of their own joylessness).

    The Archbishop Burkes of the church are busy asserting their power, excommunicating others, and burying themselves in cannon law because they are pathetic, joyless creatures bereft of personal affections.

    The pathologies of these self-loathing sycophants of Rome stand in sharp contrast to He who came “so they may have life, and have it in abundance.”

    -- John K

  2. Great comment John. I guess not so coincidentally I had a long and extended dream last night where I was specifically requested to write on this very sick dynamic using the homophobic commentary of Archbishop Nienstedt of Minneapolis.

    As you can see I avoided that request today, but you can't rest assured I got the message and will write on it tomorrow. Apparently the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. I hope you won't mind if I excise part of your comment.

    By the way, Bill Lydsey and I have written off line about how these self loathing homesexuals drive us both nuts. I also see where the current repbulican governor of Florida, Mr. Crist has suddenly found marriage after thirty swinging years, now that he's being considered for VP. The Republican party also has it's issues with self loathing homosexuals.