Cardinal Burke and the Price of Princes

Cardinal Burke and the Price of Princes November 28, 2023

 

You have probably already heard that Cardinal Raymond Burke has once again been slapped down by Pope Francis. Specifically, according to the Associated Press, Francis has taken away Burke’s right to an allowance and a Vatican-subsidized apartment. Burke’s “apartment” is said to be  4,488 square feet, and the only information I can find about his pay is that it’s about $68000 a year (from which he doesn’t pay rent thanks to that behemoth of an apartment). That’s quite a lot to lose.

This punishment is reportedly because of Burke’s “using his privileges against the Church.” Burke is famous for constantly criticizing the Pope.

I have never been a fan of Cardinal Burke, famous  for wearing ludicrously flamboyant historic cosplay vestments while complaining that the Catholic Church is “too feminized” and blaming altar girls for the priest shortage. He’s also blamed sexual abuse on “the homosexual agenda” while there have been serious allegations that he himself improperly handled abusive priests while he was Archbishop of Saint Louis. Besides all that, a man who taunts his boss as often as Burke has deserves what he gets.

I am reminded of the time a lady was trying to compliment Cardinal Burke on a social media thread, and she accidentally called him a “price of the Church.” She meant to say “prince of the Church,” a fancy name for a Cardinal, but by a typo or a Freudian slip she said “price.” And that struck me as the most aptly descriptive mistake in the world. One way or another, people like him certainly are a price of the Church. He came with an extremely high price tag.

That brings me to another question: why does the Church have princes in the first place? Aren’t we supposed to have shepherds?

The injunction that Jesus gives to Peter is “feed my sheep–” which, as a commentator pointed out to me today, was the lowest of lowly jobs in Jesus’s day. Nobody wanted to feed the livestock. It wasn’t glamorous. Jesus ordered the rock upon which the whole Church was built to do the most menial thing. How did this turn into a monarchy? And not just any monarchy; not an upstanding and noble monarchy like a wise warrior king and his heroic sons from a fairy tale. This is a monarchy that resembles something out of France just before the revolution. Why would anyone want that kind of monarch? And why would anyone think Jesus intended it when He said “feed my sheep?”

What if, instead of princes, we had simple shepherds? What if we honored the office of being a leader, but expected leaders to live more like their underlings did? What if, for example, we expected our bishops to take vows similar to the vow of poverty a monk or friar makes? A vow of poverty doesn’t mean living in penury and squalor; it just means that you don’t own things yourself, but instead live simply in a house the community owns. I’ve known many vowed religious who lived quite comfortably, without violating their vows. Suppose every bishop got a reasonable middle-class stipend and a small parsonage that belongs to the diocese, and they weren’t allowed to amass wealth outside of that, and we closed the loopholes that leave some of them in luxury. Suppose we left the churches and cathedral, which are for all of God’s people to worship in, as ornate and glorious as ever to remind us of Heaven, but the offices and apartments the diocese uses were modest. Suppose that when the hierarchy went to celebrate Mass, at which point they were acting in persona Christi, they got to wear beautiful kingly vestments that were the property of the diocese, and then after Mass when they weren’t in persona Christi at the moment they went back to plain old clericals with no bling. No thousands of dollars in palm-greasing. No million dollar mansions. And the same for the Cardinals, all the way to the top.  Some Cardinals choose to live simply, after all. What would be so terrible about requiring it?

“We have to respect the office,” I hear people insist, and we can. We can respect their office by holding them to a reasonable standard. We don’t have to crown them princes. I respect my daughter’s school teachers very much, and I don’t call them princes. My parish pastor is a good man and I don’t call him a prince.

The only other objection I can think of is, “if we did that, who would want to be a bishop?”

And that would be the best thing about my idea. Because nobody who WANTS to be a bishop should be a bishop. The same goes for any leader. The person best suited to lead, is an honest and trustworthy person with good common sense, someone who deeply cares about the people he’s leading, someone we can trust to stand up for what’s right even when the people around him would prefer to be wrong, but someone who doesn’t want to lord it over others so he’ll be as gentle as he can while insisting on the right thing. People who are excited at the prospect of being leaders don’t have those qualities. People who would enjoy being leaders lord it over others. They enjoy being deferred to. They like to wield the stick and they don’t care about who they hurt. Making it unattractive to be in the hierarchy is one of the best things we can do, if we want the hierarchy to behave.

A prince is the worst thing a church can have.

I’m glad this one will have to find a new line of work.

Let’s all try to make it a better world.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

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