Thursday, March 26, 2009
Pope Needs to Fire Vatican's Archbishop Burke for Threatening U.S. Bishops
Archbishop Raymond Burke is at it again: trying to force every U.S. Catholic bishop to adopt his view that Catholic politicians who won't outlaw all abortions must be denied holy communion. Although the bishops declined to adopt his position when he was a member of their conference, he is now using his new job as a top Vatican official to tell them they were wrong and to say, in effect, "my way or the highway."
At first he was content to impose the policy in LaCrosse, WI, where he was archbishop from 1995 to 2003. But when he was made archbishop of St. Louis in 2004, Burke upped the ante--by raising the issue against the presidential candidacy of John Kerry.
Also that year, Burke led a minority group of bishops who wanted to make the policy mandatory for all U.S. bishops. But the bishops did not agree and decided instead that each bishop would have the final say in his own diocese.
Not happy with that outcome, Burke went on to tell Catholics that if they voted for a pro-choice candidate, they were committing grave sin and they could not receive communion either.
Burke also meddled in the 2008 presidential campaign, again admonishing Catholics that they could not vote for a pro-choice candidate and again pressing other bishops to extend his ban to other Catholic politicians. Burke gained few converts in either audience.
In June of 2008 many in the United States breathed a sigh of relief at the news Burke had been named to head the Apostolic Signatura, also known as the Vatican's supreme court. But others expressed concern that with his quirky way of applying canon law to reception of communion, Burke could do more damage there. Those fears, it turns out, were well founded.
Speaking from Rome in January Burke condemned the election of pro-choice candidate Obama and placed much of the blame on a U.S. bishops' election guide that he considered lukewarm in opposing abortion.
Now we learn from the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets that Burke is aiding an anti-abortion terrorist who wants the Vatican to remove any U.S. bishops will not deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.
Burke made his remarks in a videotaped interview with Randall Terry, the former head of Operation Rescue, who was arrested more than 40 times for illegal anti-abortion activities. Terry is now a Burke disciple. Terry has been campaigning to have Rome remove U.S. bishops who will not take Burke's position on communion.
Burke said he "would encourage the faithful when they are scandalized by the giving of Holy Communion to persons are publicly and obstinately in sin, that they go to their pastors, whether it’s their parish priest or to their bishop, to insist that this scandal stop."
Contrary to the U.S. bishops, Burke also said it is the responsibility of all who distribute communion--whether bishops, priests or lay ministers--to identify such sinners and refuse them communion.
Burke soon apologized to "my brother bishops" after Terry played the videotape March 25th at the National Press Club. But he did not withdraw his criticism, his advice to parishioners, or his instructions to ministers of communion.
It is quite evident that Burke has no intention of abiding by the U.S. bishops' ruling that denying communion to politicians is a decision the only the local bishop can make. The only way to stop him from misusing his Vatican office to oppose the bishops' policy is to remove him from office.
He needs to be removed because his office gives him no authority to undermine the bishops on this issue.
He needs to be removed because he arrogates to himself the authority to judge that an individual Catholic politician "is publicly and obstinately in grave sin," simply because that politician is not convinced that outlawing abortion is the best way to protect human life in utero.
In taking that absolutist position, Burke goes well beyond Rome's official guidance, as voiced for example in these words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: "As John Paul II has taught in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae regarding the situation in which it is not possible to overturn or completely repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force or coming up for a vote, 'an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.'"
That is in fact what most pro-choice Catholic politicians are trying to accomplish. Granting due weight to their oaths of office, the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, and the majority sentiment of the voters, they recognize that current U.S. law cannot be overturned and seek more realistic ways to reduce the number of abortions. That was also the position of pro-life Catholics who nonetheless supported Barack Obama.
For Burke and other ultraconservative bishops to berate and condemn them for that is unconscionable. For the pope to allow Burke to use his Vatican office as a new club to attack politicians and bishops who are following papal teaching is even worse. That is particularly so when the pope himself, on his last visit to the United States, made no issue whatsoever of pro-choice Catholic politicians who received communion at various papal masses.
Such a canon-law maverick has no business occupying the church's highest judicial office short of the papacy. Burke must go!