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Burke Hits and Runs

Margaret C. Galitzin

I was following the story of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s strong reprimand to American Bishops who allow politicians to receive Communion with great interest. In front of me are three news items on the topic that could appropriately be titled The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Archbishop Burke criticizes the American Bishops

Recently, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry conducted an interview with Burke in Rome as part of his campaign to persuade the Vatican to oust American Bishops who allow abortion rights backers to receive Communion. One of the reasons he was in Rome was to specifically request the transfer of Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, VA, and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, who have many pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion in their Dioceses.

Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde

The interview was used in a request to Rome to remove Archbishop Wuerl, left, and Bishop Loverde
It was quite a coup for Terry to get a word from Archbishop Burke, the former St. Louis Prelate who today is effectively head of the Vatican supreme court, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

In the interview, Burke said parishioners should press U.S. Bishops to withhold Holy Communion from Roman Catholic politicians who back legalized abortion. (1)

Interpreting Canon 915 – which is his job as head interpreter of Canon Law – he affirmed that Catholic politicians who support pro-abortion legislation should be refused Communion, and lamented that often they were not. He criticized the stand of the Prelates who were allowing this abuse, saying, “It is weakening the faith of everyone. It's giving the impression that it must be morally correct to support procured abortion."

Terry declared that Burke knew the goal of his campaign and that the interview would be distributed. (2)

The Bad: The response of the Bishops

As news of the video spread, the reaction began. Bishops were “scandalized” that their colleague had dared to violate “Vatican protocol.” (3) By linking himself to Terry’s effort, he was criticizing his fellow Bishops.

"It is unheard of for Bishops not to defend each other in the face of zealots who are calling for their removal," commented a shocked progressivist reporter for the Jesuit magazine America. (4)

Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde, were particularly offended by Burke’s remarks. The criticism was uncalled-for and unjust, according to them: Since the U.S. Bishops decided in 2004 to allow individual Bishops to determine a Communion policy for their Dioceses, each Bishop can decide for himself what to do in this matter. Therefore, it is not Burke’s business to be interpreting Canon Law for them and telling them what to do.

It comes as no surprise that these Bishops would use this argument.

The Ugly: Burke’s apology

After repercussions from Terry's video got back to Rome - and I imagine that didn’t take too long – it seems that Burke realized that his comments were not going to please the Vatican. The next day, in fact, he issued another statement. (5)

In it, contradicting what he first declared, he affirmed that he never knew the video-tape would be used “as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow Bishops.” He said he thought it was just for viewing among pro-life workers, and he only meant to give them some support. If he had known it would be made public, he continued, he would have never agreed to participate in it.

Archbishop Raymond Burke

An apology for causing hurt to his brother bishops...
Then he apologized for his critique: “I am deeply sorry for the confusion and hurt which the wrong use of the videotape has caused to anyone, particularly, to my brother bishops.”

Why is this apology so ugly?

First, because it is certain that Archbishop Burke said what was reported: it is his image and voice on the video interview. It is also indisputable that he was directing his words to a broad audience. Now, why doesn't this Prince of the Church stand behind what he said, which, by the way, was nothing more than an affirmation of elementary Catholic teaching on abortion?

It is really ugly to see a man running like a rabbit at the first criticism he receives, blaming the interviewer for spreading his words. He just said what every Catholic should have learned in the Catechism. What's wrong with this?

If someone harbors an illusion about Archbishop Burke as the courageous defender of the Faith, this episode keenly depicts that he is not a hero. The Faith and Morals that he seemed to be defending some days ago fell to a secondary plane of importance when his prestige with his fellow Bishops was jeopardized. He cares a lot about not hurting his colleagues; he doesn't care as much about hurting Our Lord Jesus Christ's doctrine. It is a very ugly attitude.

Second, the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura is one of the highest judicial courts in the Catholic Church. It is a court of appeal above the Rota Romana to judge the sentences of the latter on marriages and religious vows. Archbishop Burke as head of this organ had the right to reprimand American Bishops for being remiss in the application of Canon 915.

Again, why didn't he make use of his position to correct the Bishops? His apology seems as if it could very well have stemmed from a reprimand coming from the Vatican. Something of this sort: "Stop talking this way or your career is over." If this is true, then we have a still uglier situation. The Holy See would be covering for the American Bishops who are soft on the abortion issue...

It is disheartening for the faithful to see how Archbishop Burke bowed at the first sign of pressure: "I'm sorry the words I said got back to you. I meant to scold you behind your backs, not to your faces." When cowardice and a lack of integrity enter the picture, it always becomes ugly.
1. “Vatican official criticizes US bishops on abortion” ABC News online, March 25, 2009
2. Ibid.
3. “Loverde and Wuerl respond to Burke” National Catholic Reporter online, March 29, 2009
4. “Vatican official criticizes US bishops on abortion.”
5. “Burke apologizes for remarks critical of U.S. bishops” National Catholic Reporter online, March 26, 2009.
Posted April 1, 2009

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