The consistency of Archbishop Burke

Burke 01Remember four years ago when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke roiled various groups by saying he would deny Democratic Sen. John Kerry communion if he presented himself for it? Four years later the most prominent Roman Catholic running for the highest office in the land is a Republican and, shockingly, Burke has the same position on communion as he did before.

In fact, Burke is saying that anyone who administers communion should deny it to politicians who publicly oppose church teaching. St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend has the details:

Asked if he would deny Communion to Giuliani if the former New York mayor approached him for the sacrament at the Cathedral Basilica, Burke said: “If the question is about a Catholic who is publicly espousing positions contrary to the moral law and I know that person knows it, yes I would.”

In an interview earlier this year, Burke said of Giuliani: “I can’t imagine that as a Catholic he doesn’t know that his stance on the protection of human life is wrong. If someone is publicly sinning, they should not approach to receive Holy Communion.”

Townsend speaks with experts about the potential political fallout of Burke’s stand. He cites an August Pew poll showing that only 22 percent of the public knows that Guiliani supports abortion. He speaks with Kerry campaign people about how Burke’s statements hurt the campaign. I appreciated that since so many journalists have short-term memory:

After Burke’s comments about Kerry in 2004, the archbishop was pilloried by critics who said he was acting as a shill for President George W. Bush’s campaign.

Burke’s comments about Giuliani show the archbishop to be an equal-opportunity enforcer of canon law, [John] Green[, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life] said.

“This shows the bishop is consistent and nonpartisan on this issue,” he said. “Some felt this was a covert maneuver by the church (in 2004), but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

The best part of Townsend’s story is that he doesn’t just look at the current political climate but the larger religious significance. The last half of the piece is about Burke’s article making the case that Eucharistic ministers would be committing a mortal sin if they failed to deny Communion to a politician who they knew had been warned by church authorities not to take Communion. Townsend shows how this understanding led to his 2004 comments:

The archbishop said he was struck by the public reaction to his comment, and by the fact that so many Catholics didn’t understand the issue. That reaction led him to question his own understanding of the church law that governs the issue, Canon 915, so he began researching it in 2005 and studied it for two years.

Burke is widely recognized as one of the sharpest legal minds in the Catholic church. He is a sitting member of the Vatican’s highest judicial authority, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. His colleagues praised the scholarship in Burke’s article. . . .

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, said Burke’s reasons for writing were probably more pastoral. “He is concerned because he believes the teaching of the church is being misrepresented to the detriment of the integrity of Catholic teaching, and most importantly to the integrity of the Holy Eucharist,” he said.

He quotes the Rev. Thomas Reese, too, confirming my suspicion that it is impossible to quote Neuhaus without also quoting Reese — and vice versa. But what a thorough piece. I really learned interesting information about Burke and the development of church positions.

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  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    I hate to sound stupid, but isn’t Mayor Giuliani already excommunicated because of his marital problems?

  • Donna

    You know? I wouldn’t have nearly the problem with this sort of thing if the only people Guiliani or Kerry or any other Catholic politician was representing were Catholics. However, that’s not the case. And frankly I’m more than a little tired of religious leaders acting as if their religion is the only one around and no one else matters. If these guys are so interested in playing in the political arena, then perhaps they should forgo their tax exempt status and become more involved. Otherwise, they can just butt out.

  • Tim J

    Donna,

    Which part do you see as religion infringing on politics? The part where the religious leader decides how to perform a religious rite within the confines of his church, or the part where he speaks about it?

  • Donna

    Tim,

    I don’t care if he speaks about it. What I do care about are the religious leaders who seem to feel the only people someone is representing are of Religion X.

    When a religious leader is speaking in order to influence a politician’s vote on a matter and I’m not of that religion, I get a little ticked off. If he would like to play in that arena, then he needs to take off his robe, step out from behind his pulpit and pay taxes like the rest of us. Then he can wheel and deal with the rest of the lobbyists and influence peddlers.

  • http://pos51.org Charles

    Donna,

    The Archbishop’s statement is about more than the vote, it’s about whether or not a member who is violating or helping others to violate church teaching can participate in a religious rite. What does that have to do with who he represents?

    Burke’s not trying to “play in that arena”, he’s dealing with one person. He’s not saying anything about pro-choice politicians who aren’t Catholics.

  • Charles

    Actually, Donna, the bishops as a collective are not doing their job. Archbishop Burke is basically the only one with the chutzpah to risk the ire of folks like you who fail to understand that on issues of grave import like abortion the Church must discipline Catholic lawmakers who flagrantly create scandal by legalizing seriously sinful acts. This is their prophetic responsibility to both the faithful and wider society. It’s not playing politics or lobbying; it’s certainly not partisan.

    It’s news because it matters. It speaks to the state of our culture, our politics, and the condition of the Church. Catholics are supposed to pay attention to the Magisterium on these things, and unlike Rudy many (millions) of us do. Thus, non-Catholics take notice, too. Again, it’s a spiritual issue with political resonance. It’s our right to act on the teaching of the Church. You have to respect that, and the state, constitutionally speaking, does too.

    People like to slam the Church for being derelict in the face of Nazism. In the face of the Holocaust. Abortion is an equivalent issue. Our society is sliding deeper into a moral morass. Arbshp Burke is a voice of conscience, much like Blessed Clemens August Cardinal Graf von Galen was in Germany in the 30′s & 40′s. Read his story here, and think about it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clemens_August_Graf_von_Galen

  • http://showard1.blogspot.com Samuel J. Howard

    “making the case that Eucharistic ministers would be committing a mortal sin”

    A serious sin not a mortal sin. The distinction being that a sin being mortal requires various other things besides the gravity of the sinful act (full knowledge and deliberate consent). Generally in the external forum. Reporters have to be careful not to use the terms interchangably (as do the Bishops they recently wrote that someone who is conscious of having committed a mortal sin should refrain from recieving communion, when the canonical standard is a serious sin).

    I hate to sound stupid, but isn’t Mayor Giuliani already excommunicated because of his marital problems?

    No. He cannot recieve communion because by living openly with a woman he is not married to (in the eyes of the Church), the same thing that gets pro-abortion politicians into trouble. He’s not “excommunicated”. They’re different parts of the same Canon:

    Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

    On the other Bishops:

    Archbishop Burke is basically the only one with the chutzpah to risk the ire of folks like you who fail to understand that on issues of grave import like abortion the Church must discipline Catholic lawmakers who flagrantly create scandal by legalizing seriously sinful acts.

    Have you read Cardinal George’s interview with John Allen? Cardinal George acknowledges both the pastoral difficulties and the reality of the law.

  • Martha

    Donna, there’s two questions here.

    (1) As a politician, should Mr Y uphold the laws of the land?

    (2) As a member of denomination X, should Mr Y be permitted to participate in the rites of that denomination when he denies, rejects, or acts in a manner inconsistent with the ordinances of that denomination?

    If hypocrisy is defined as saying one thing and doing another, then Mr Y is a hypocrite. If he, for example, voted for a law cracking down on tax dodgers and then it were discovered he was a tax dodger himself, I believe you would call him a hypocrite.

    Now, there are two things that can go on here: Mr Y can perform his public duties as required by law, and Mr Y can be obedient to his faith. He cannot, however, call himself a good and faithful member of denomination X while not alone publicly but also privately supporting organisations that perform acts in opposition to the tenets of his faith.

    The same way a strict observant Baptist could not go to a nightclub on Saturday night, be photographed knocking back a few beers, having a twirl on the dancefloor and placing his bet on the winner of the 3:30, then turn up at services on Sunday and say “I’m a good member of this congregation and I don’t see why I should be treated in this manner”.

    It’d be even worse if it was found out he was investing his money in a brewery.

    Mr Y as a strict observant Baptist does not need to work for Prohibition or say that he will refuse to grant liquor licences in accordance with the law; he just has to avoid investing money in breweries, go to the opening of the new bar and perform the ribboncutting ceremony, or hang around with the Vinters Association Lobby Group.

  • Donna

    Sorry guys.

    Those arguments don’t convince me the Archbishop Burke shouldn’t have his church’s 501(c) revoked. He wants to play in electoral politics, then he can pay his taxes like everyone else.

  • Susan

    Donna,

    Please explain why you feel it is a violation of the tax code for a Catholic Bishop to deny the Eucharist to a person who publicly opposes the teaching of the Church? He is not asking people not to vote for a specific politician. He is merely reminding Catholics, in his role as a leader of the flock, that they may not receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist under certain conditions. To receive the sacrament one must be in communion with the Church–the Body of Christ. This is a matter of Church law–nothing more and nothing less.

    God Bless,
    Susan

  • Donna

    Susan,

    I suspect it’s because of his very public and very loud actions. Funny. You only hear from Archbishop Burke when there’s an election on. Not that he’s trying to influence an election or anything….

  • Donna

    Susan,

    And before I forget, Burke was amongst the Archbishops who came out and said it would be a sin for a Catholic to vote for John Kerry.

    That does sound an awful lot like telling people who to vote for.

  • John

    According to Donna:

    I suspect it’s because of his very public and very loud actions.

    Umm… bishops are supposed to make their pronouncements loudly and publicly. That’s what bishops do. It’s called leading the flock.

    Funny. You only hear from Archbishop Burke when there’s an election on.

    No. He only gets reported on when there is an election on. For those who keep up with prolife and Catholic news, he has been every bit as outspoken between elections as during elections.

    Burke was amongst the Archbishops who came out and said it would be a sin for a Catholic to vote for John Kerry…That does sound an awful lot like telling people who to vote for.

    No. He did not say it was a sin to vote for John Kerry. He said it was a sin to vote for anyone, Republican or Democrat, who supported legalized abortion. He did not tell anyone who specifically to vote for or not to vote for. He did tell people that there what the moral implications of their votes were.

    Archbishop Burke’s credentials as a non-partisan religious leader are probably stronger now than ever before in his career.

  • Jerry

    Does anyone know of a poll which asks if pronouncements like his makes someone more or less likely to vote for a Catholic candidate?

    I bet that the more (non-Catholic) people believe that the policies of the United States are being set by the Pope, under threat of excommunication, the less likely they’d be to vote for a Catholic candidate.

    But I can’t remember seeing this question asked.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Donna wrote:

    Those arguments don’t convince me the Archbishop Burke shouldn’t have his church’s 501(c) revoked. He wants to play in electoral politics, then he can pay his taxes like everyone else.

    I think this shows why media criticism is so important. Unfortunately people don’t quite get how stories get written. In this case, Burke was explicitly asked about Guiliani — he didn’t offer up the thought. What’s more, in his response, he didn’t cite Guiliani by name. He broadened his response to include any Catholic publicly espousing positions contrary to the moral law.

    This wasn’t even really about voting at all!

    Now, Townsend made this clear and was explicit in his article. But you can see how some reporters might not do that — and why criticism might help reporters see the importance of careful wording. Even the headline accompanying this piece was less nuanced than Townsend’s own article.

  • Joshua Birk

    First Things is a “Catholic journal”? I know a number of folks in those circles have crossed the Tiber in recent months, but I don’t think FT has lost ALL its ecumenical flavor.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Funny how I didn’t see any complaints about “interfering in politics” and “imposing his beliefs” when segregationists were excommunicated. (And before giving us the “*I* didn’t hear about it, so that makes it didn’t happen”, it was a front-page story in the Newspaper Of Record.)

  • Julia

    How can rules affecting membership or participation in the rites of a religion constitute political activity? Giuliani doesn’t have to be a Catholic, it’s a free choice. If he doesn’t want to abide by the rules, he faces the consequences.

    Don’t unions have rules to maintain membership, not to mention the Masons, the Elks, the YWCA, golf clubs, AARP, the Mormons, etc.?

    Repeat – Giuliani doesn’t have to belong to the Catholic Church, neither does/did Kerry. If the Catholic Church was not involved this would be a non-story. Nobody disputes the baseball establishment’s right to exclude players who get involved in gambling, right?? Why can’t a church set its own membership rules?

    BTW I’m from the St Louis area. This was not a press conference instigated by Burke (who is not my hero for other reasons). The article is the result of a reporter asking questions.


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