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James Martin, S.J.September 28, 2009

In an implicit rebuttal to Cardinal Sean O'Malley's presiding at the funeral of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, as well as a more overt rebuke to the Obama administration, Arcbishop Raymond Burke addressed the question of how the church should respond to Catholics in public life who do not espouse church teaching, specifically surrounding pro-life issues.  His talk is entitled Reflections on the Struggle to Advance the Culture of Life.  Archbishop Burke is the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and these remarks were delivered to a dinner sponsored by InsideCatholic.com last week in Washington, DC.

He begins by saying, "The administration of our federal government openly and aggressively follows a secularist agenda." 

But the heart of his talk is his commentary on not giving scandal:

To ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, for example, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation. The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law (Code of Canon Law, cann. 915; and 1184, § 1, 3º).

It is said that these disciplines which the Church has consistently observed down the centuries presume to pass a judgment on the eternal salvation of a soul, which belongs to God alone, and, therefore, should be abandoned. On the contrary, these disciplines are not a judgment on the eternal salvation of the soul in question. They are simply the acknowledgment of an objective truth, namely, that the public actions of the soul are in violation of the moral law, to his own grave harm and to the grave harm of all who are confused or led into error by his actions. The Church confides every soul to the mercy of God, which is great beyond all our imagining, but that does not excuse her from proclaiming the truth of the moral law, also by applying her age-old disciplines, for the sake of the salvation of all.

When a person has publicly espoused and cooperated in gravely sinful acts, leading many into confusion and error about fundamental questions of respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, his repentance of such actions must also be public. The person in question bears a heavy responsibility for the grave scandal which he has caused. The responsibility is especially heavy for political leaders. The repair of such scandal begins with the public acknowledgment of his own error and the public declaration of his adherence to the moral law. The soul which recognizes the gravity of what he has done will, in fact, understand immediately the need to make public reparation.

James Martin, SJ


Cathy Kaveny over at Dotcommonweal notes the following:

Taken together, O”Malley’s and Burke’s talks seem to outline the state of the debate.. Nonetheless, I was troubled by one particular aspect of Burke’s speech, which struck me as going further rhetorically than he has gone before.

If there has always been the danger of giving scandal to others by public and seriously sinful actions or failures to act, that danger is heightened in our own time. Because of the confusion about the moral law, which is found in public discourse, in general, and is even embodied in laws and judicial pronouncements, the Christian is held to an even higher standard of clarity in enunciating and upholding the moral law. It is particularly insidious that our society which is so profoundly confused about the most basic goods also believes that scandal is a thing of the past. One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. (emphasis added).

Am I wrong, or is Burke here implying that McCarrick and O”Malley were influenced by the Devil himself in making the decisions they made? If so, this strikes me as quite a new level of accusation by one brother bishop to another.  Maybe not absolutely, as my friends who study early Church history tell me.   But quite new for us.--Kaveny

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14 years ago
While he's at it, why doesn't the good archbishop include those who take their own lives, all known pedophiles, the publicly divorced and remarried without annulment, mafia mobsters, etc?
Many , like the Archbishop, seem to find scandal only in certainn issues - mostly regarding abortion and gays.  Is he scandalized because Jesus gave communion to Judas ?
Someone tell Archbishop Burke the Church has been there and done that. Today, many know Jesus better and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd when we hear it...and when we don't.
14 years ago
One part of the Archbishops' Address that I found insightful is the following passage.
"One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church."
I think there is a strong tendency among many in the Church to "blame the victim" when it comes to those who are stung by the behavior of fellow Catholics.  Often, those who are the strongest advocates of compassion-and rightly so-for every and any suffering person have the hardest time summoning more than an, "Oh, grow the hell up already" (e.g., "Be Charitable") for those people who feel spiritually wounded when their fellow Catholics  publicly and unrepentantly undermine the Faith, or harm their ability to pass the faith on to their children, or make it more difficult live their faith in the public square.
People who experience scandal are the least ministered-to group in the Church because few are even willing to acknowledge that their pain is legitimate. The insitutional response to those who are suffering from scandal is often akin to that of the exhausted parent who, upon hearing that one sibling injured another, refuses to get involved for fear of looking as if he is taking sides, and instead simply, impotently mutters, "Why can't you kids just get along!"  This failure-to-parent makes the parent feel like he or she's done something while leaving the kids completely in the lurch.
In the same way, hollow calls for "charity" when one's ability to understand, live, or pass on one's faith is being impeded by the actions of someone who is supposed to be a brother or sister in the Lord simply makes the clergy look gelded at best and callous at worst, and causes the untended wounds of the laity to fester and become uglier.
Only a charitable (defined, not as "niceness," but as a commitment to work for the good of the other) response to both those afflicted by scandal and those causing the scandal will heal the rift in the Church. 
Greg Popcak
PS.  Full disclosure.  I did not object to Sen. Kennedy receiving a Catholic burial. I did however, object to the Church's de facto rubber stamping of his civil canonization.  And I do object to the dithering about canonical discipline for those politicians who actively and unrepentantly undermine the Church's work to advance the cause of life and defend the traditional family. And, finally, I do spend a great deal of my day ministering to those injured by scandal who feel they have nowhere to go for healing.
14 years ago
Professor Kaveny's notes even more combative language in a Post on Commonweal's blog:
One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. (emphasis added).
To even insinuate that fellow Archbishops are under Satan's influence is inexcusable.
14 years ago
Thank God for Archbishop Burke! 
14 years ago
I sincerely believe that Burke sincerely believes that he is doing the right thing. I also sincerely believe that Burke sincerely believes himself to be irreproachable. This is very sad to me as he does not display one scintilla of humility as I read and reread his words this time and at others. Does he only affirm himself and those who see through the same lens? Is he filled only with answers and no questions?
It seems he aims to exclude and to do so in a way that defies any understanding of the Gospel as I have come to know it. This behavior pushes us to live solely in the ''either/or'' space and not in the more mysterious and ambiguous ''both/and''space. That is the space that I believe Jesus revealed himself most profoundly in, but what do I know?
Of course, compared to Burke, who am I, what do I know? A woman, not ordained, in my second year of studying theology and in my 51st year of a life that should not have even begun let alone lasted this long or turned out as it has.
I may know nothing but what I do know is how my own life has been transformed by God - a God who is demanding of justice, fiercely demanding of it and yet is unbounding in mercy.  A God who shocks us with revelation and the inbreaking of the spirit, a God that never reveals by saying ''you keep that up'' but rather says do have a complete change of heart, deep metanoia. A God who became human, with all the fetid weakness that entails in order to transform us all by coming to heal the sick and not the self righteous.
At the end of the day, the denial of sacraments with relative ease and full public view is more about the denier than the denied. That is just how I see it, but what do I know? I do know that I am called to change all the time.
Is Burke called to change as well?
14 years ago
Burke is Rush Limbaugh in a Roman collar, with a comparable level of charity.
14 years ago
Michele Loughlin is forgetting that two cardinals of the Church praised and paid homage to the Democratic ''serial adulterer''-Ted Kennedy.  Neither of the two had the guts to question Ted's culpability in the death of Mary Jo and his support for abortion.  Michele, get off your soapbox!
14 years ago
Ms. Kaveny should not be so taken aback at the notion that the Devil tries to influence us all, including archbishops, cardinals and popes.  But no, he did not say that O'Malley was under the influence of the Devil.  She read that into it.
14 years ago
All the issues, such as those remarried without annulments, are important,
but they are not abortion.  Abortion is the holocaust of our time. 
That is why it gets so much attention.  As Catholics, we believe that
every fetus is a human life.  By that measure, we have and will continue
to lose millions of children.


I certainly do not blame the Archbishop for making such a strong case
against those who, by Catholic standards, advocate the legality of mass
slaughter.  Now, if one is a politician that is not Catholic then that is
a different matter, but they won't be lining up for Communion in any
case.  However, the Church has been explicit on this issue.


I certainly respect those bishops who choose not to withhold the Eucharist
from politicians in their dioceses, but I would hope that any Catholic would be
able to see Archbishop Burke's point of view as well.
14 years ago
A/B Burke  digs a deeper hole in excavating Humanae Vitae and  the contraceptive mentality pitch in his rant. A logical conclusion for him would be to exclude all pols from communion who by law allow contraception and while we are at it, how about excluding from communion all those one -three child families . [unless they can show a letter to the pastor from a doc showing they are infertile though no action of their own] O! O ! ...I forgot NFP..  Fax a training certificate to your local parish.. and one to A/B himself, while your at it.. .. I say live or die by canon law..
14 years ago
Well said, Ernie. Related to your point, I'm wondering exactly what action Archbishop Burke has taken to protect the lives of the born such as the innocent children who are born into poverty or are victims of unjust wars such as innocent Iraqi children. I suspect that I will wait forever to hear a declaration from him that politicians who vote to authorize wars (and thereby participate in the killing of innocent lives) should be denied access to the sacraments.
14 years ago
Alleluia.  A great bishop at last.  
What does "pro-gay" mean anyway?  If the author is trying to suggest the Archbishop Burke is hostile to human beings whose sexuality happens to be inclined to members of the same sex, it's just more slander.  I challenge the author to cite one comment made by the archbishop that seeks to exclude or shun any person who is struggling with that particular problem.  What he is saying is that people who publicly defy Church teaching on abortion, or homosexual activity, are not to be celebrated with quasi-canonizations of the sort we just witnessed.
14 years ago
The archbishop has simplified everything for me: Republicans always good; Democrats always evil.
Don't miss Deal Hudson's tribute to serial adulterer Newt Gingrich at Inside Catholic.
14 years ago
Why all the outrage at Cardinal Burke for saying 'yes' when he means 'yes' and 'no' when he means 'no'?
Did we not hear our Lord in the Gospel last Sunday say to us that whosoever scandalizes (causes to sin) one of the little ones who believe in Him that it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the sea?
What Cardinal Burke is saying is so basic that what is really shocking here is the adverse reaction to his words.  Shocking because it highlights a real lack of formation in the Faith.  A lack of formation in the Faith, for example, evidenced by the sheer unbelief that Cardinal Burke would stoop so low as to consider the evil hand of the devil at work.  Really?  Have evolved Catholics reasoned the devil out of existence?  Thank you Cardinal Burke for identifying our real enemy, for I fear that many of us do forget who the enemy is that we are fighting in our lives.
St. Ignatius warns the exercisant to consider, when doing spiritual exercises, whether motions moving within the exercisant are from God or from the enemy.
When we take a second look at Cardinal Burke's message, let us: be honest, consider what and in Whom we really believe, and whether our thoughts would please God or not.
God bless you.
14 years ago
Though I am normally a supporter of the Archbishop, he is very wrong on this issue. A Catholic should never be denied a Catholic funeral. That being said, there needs to be a balance between a merited catholic funeral and a "cannonization mass / funeral" held because social or political group "X" expects one.
I can well imagine that deciding the appropriate level of involvement can be difficult for a Bishop. I do not think that Burke or O'Malley made the right decision.  
14 years ago
30 years ago, I had a Catholic priest shame me (inadvertantly) about my Neanderthal attitude toward gays by saying simply ''They're God's children, too.'' I often wonder what happened to that priest. If he's still with us, or a priest, a lot of what he sees in the Church hierarchy must make him ill. It does me.
14 years ago
Burke would be correct if Catholic politicians were actually advocating abortion as a birth control option.  They are not.  He may be a brilliant canonist, but he does not understand American law on the matter.
I'm sure if his brother bishops make a stink about this he will reuse his Randall Terry excuse and claim that he was speaking as an American Bishop and not as Signatura.  I suspect he has been badly advised, as any politician's opinion on Roe is about as meaningless to the disposition of the issue of abortion as their opinion on National Peanut Week.  Someone please tell both A/B Burke and Cardinal Rigali that the American case is about constitutional law and is thus outside the purview of the legislature, especially the state legislatures, and is unlike the case in most of Europe - where abortion rights are conferred in legislation.  Until they get that difference, they will only inflame the issue without actually doing anything for the unborn.  Indeed, focusing on Roe makes progress via other avenues almost impossible because it is so polarizing.
14 years ago
It always bears noting how quickly a debate descends into the realm of the ad hominem and, more importantly, the relevant aspects of said debate are jettisoned like so much ballast.
No, I couldn't disagree more with Prof. Kaveny's construction on Abp. Burke's words. To me - and I'll cheerfully sit down and hear out anyone willing to walk me through it if I'm wrong - what Abp. Burke said about "the Father of Lies" means there is a demonic at play in this world and we are delusional to ignore it or deny it. This influence reaches all of us.
That those who are more sensitive to scandal have been impugned and marginalized is beyond question, that the subject of scandal has been derided and belittled is also beyond question. Abp. Burke's words speak to that situation.
Having said that, I am of the opinion (being the implacable middle-of-the-road type that I am) Sen. Kennedy should not have been denied a Catholic funeral...but said funeral should not have been allowed to devolve into what it did, that the opportunity to pray for Our Lord to show His mercy to Sen. Kennedy because of his failings especially in issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. was lost. I also believe politicians who, after deliberation, discussion, etc. with their bishop still obstinately remain in such grave error should have Holy Communion withheld from them. The goal here is not to "punish" them, but to show concern for their souls.
14 years ago
I am disappointed in moral equivalency implied in Burke's statement ''the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union''.  How is a politician who supports civil rights (emphasis on civil) for gay people, i.e. gay marriage, committing a grave violation of moral law?  Even if it is ''grave'' it is certainly not nearly as grave as the taking of innocent life, right?  Where is the confusion that a Catholic politcian might foster if he or she supports civil, legal protections for same-sex couples?  Seems to me pretty clear - civil union/civil marriage is something very different from sacramental marriage.  The staunch pro-lifers in the Church are offended when people try to equate other social evils like war and poverty with abortion.  Isn't Burke doing the same thing when he lumps gay rights with abortion?
14 years ago
When St. Paul wrote about unworthily receiving Communion, I don't think he was talking about people who disagreed with him on politics or even doctrine.  Disagreement is not apostacy (especially when the cleric involved is ignorant of the civil and constitutional law involved).  It is a pity that the Apostalic Signatura seems to be proof texting like a Protestant on this matter.  While I would advise those procuring or performing elective (as opposed to therapeutic) abortions from receiving communion - one's political opinion on the role of the state in this matter is hardly a matter of grave sin.  Indeed, it is more sinful to draw a line in the sand on this issue in such a way that no progress can be made - or to use it for electoral purposes in such a way that positive action for the unborn is impossible.  Copy this link for my take on the issue: [url=http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-20951-DC-Progressive-Catholic-Perspectives-Examiner~y2009m9d29-Archbishop-Burke-still-has-it-wrong]http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-20951-DC-Progressive-Catholic-Perspectives-Examiner~y2009m9d29-Archbishop-Burke-still-has-it-wrong[/url]

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