|Reflects on New Role in Vatican and Election-Year Politics
ROME, OCT. 2, 2008 (ZENIT)
With a heavy heart, Archbishop Raymond
Burke acknowledges that the U.S. Democratic Party is quickly moving to
become the "party of death."
The new head of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature said this
in an interview published Saturday by the Italian episcopal conference's
daily newspaper Avvenire.
In this interview conducted by Gianni Cardinale, the archbishop, who was
formerly the archbishop of St. Louis, comments on his move to Rome and
his views of election-year politics in the United States.
Q: Briefly, what does the Apostolic Signature do?
Archbishop Burke: This dicastery must oversee the administration of
justice in ecclesiastical tribunals around the world, so that the
discipline of the Church is respected by all in a homogeneous and just
way. Then we judge cases
rare in truth
of appeal against decisions of the Rota. Finally we judge appeals
against individual administrative acts confirmed by the other
dicasteries of the Roman Curia.
Whoever, in fact, is held unjustly accused of an administrative act must
first request the review of the author's act and, if the author refuses
to review the matter, he can appeal to the author's hierarchical
superior, namely, the competent dicastery of the Roman Curia, according
to the matter in question.
If the appellant or the author regard the dicastery's response unjust,
they can appeal to the Apostolic Signature which, in this area functions
as a supreme court of appeal.
Q: You were saying that it is the competence of the Signature to oversee
how the ecclesiastical tribunals administer justice. How do you assess
the fact that those of the United States issue every year a higher
number of marital annulments than that of all the other diocesan
Archbishop Burke: This is a worrying fact. I say it as an American
priest, as canonist and now as prefect of this Supreme Tribunal.
This disproportion has caused and continues to cause perplexity, also
because of the evidently unbalanced relation between the number of
decisions and that of the judges of the diocesan tribunals. This
dicastery intervened more times to clarify the situation, which risks
making one think that it is an "American way" to introduce
surreptitiously a type of "Catholic divorce."
Q: As archbishop of St. Louis you were, not a few times, at the center
of journalistic attention. There are those who even thought that your
nomination was due to the fact that they wished to remove you from the
Archbishop Burke: I have too much respect for the Pope to believe that
in order to move someone away from the diocese he would nominate him to
a very sensitive dicastery like this one.
Q: It is a fact that you had some problems in St. Louis.
Archbishop Burke: Indeed, there was the issue of a parish, that of St.
Stanislaw Kotska, which in practice had become Protestant.
Then the fact that, in a fundraising event, the Catholic Pediatric
Hospital invited as the guest star singer Sheryl Crow, known for being a
tenacious advocate of the right of procured abortion. And finally, the
question of the so-called priestly ordination of two women, which even
witnessed a nun among the promoters.
In all these cases I was compelled to intervene FF
— reluctantly, but I had to do it
with disciplinary procedures to avoid scandalizing the faithful.
Q: But is St. Louis a particularly unfortunate diocese, or are these
phenomena spread elsewhere?
Archbishop Burke: The issue of the parish to one side, which is a local
one, the other issues are also spread elsewhere. For example, it should
be noted that other so-called ordinations of women are planned in 50
other dioceses of the United States.
However, I must underline that at St. Louis I was not always struggling
against the difficulties that were there. But I lived my episcopate with
joy, seeking to favor the relationship with the clergy and seminarians.
Because I think that the first duty of a good bishop is that of being
close, to comfort and counsel his priests. The bishop cannot do anything
without the priests. And I must say that this care was compensated by a
good number of new vocations, thank God.
Q: You mentioned singer Sheryl Crow. You must have noted that she was
invited to sing at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Archbishop Burke: To tell the truth, I paid no attention, but I must say
that the news does not much surprise me.
At this point, the Democratic Party risks transforming itself
definitively into a "party of death" due to its choices on bioethical
issues, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in his book "The Party of Death: The
Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life."
And I say this with a heavy heart, because we all know that the
Democrats were the party that helped our Catholic immigrant parents and
grandparents to better integrate into and prosper in American society.
But it's not the same anymore.
Nonetheless, there are among Democrats some pro-lifers, but they are,
Q: As canonist and as bishop, it is said that you were against giving
Communion to those Catholic politicians who show themselves obstinately
and publicly in favor of the right of abortion, but your position was
not taken up by the episcopal conference.
Archbishop Burke: Mine was not an isolated position. It was shared by
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver [Colorado], by Bishop Peter J.
Jugis of Charlotte [North Carolina], and by others. But it is true that
the bishops' conference has not taken this position, leaving each bishop
free to act as he believes is best. For my part, I always have
maintained that there must be a united position in order to demonstrate
the unity of the Church in facing this serious question.
Recently, I have noticed that other bishops are coming to this position.
Above all, following some evidently poor statements on the part of the
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and of the Democratic candidate to
vice president, Senator Joe Biden, who, while presenting themselves as
good Catholics, have represented Church teaching on abortion in a false
and tendentious manner.
Q: In 2004, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a letter to American
bishops on this topic.
Archbishop Burke: It's true, but I don't know why it was never
distributed. However, it was published by Vaticanist Sandro Magister on
his Web site and also by the periodical "Origins."
In the latter, it is clear that the then prefect of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith supported the authentic interpretation of the
Code of Canon Law, and that it is not licit to give holy Communion to
one who is publicly and obstinately a sinner. And it is logical that one
who publicly and obstinately acts in favor of procured abortion enters
into this category.
Q: Did you ever wonder why the question of Communion to politicians
favorable to abortion is an eminently American question without
reflections in Europe?
Archbishop Burke: I don't know. I don't know if Catholic politicians in
Europe are more coherent, although I have my doubts.
However, some time ago an American Protestant politician asked me if the
Church had changed her doctrine regarding abortion. I replied no,
obviously. He answered me: That's strange because in the American
Congress many Catholics calmly support legislation that favors the right
I am convinced that on this point the Church must always be very clear.
Q: But isn't there the risk that in this way the Church might show a
side of itself that is grim and merciless?
Archbishop Burke: The merciful face of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the
Church is always present in every priest who speaks with his faithful,
counsels them and confesses them.
But also canon law, which always has the salvation of souls as its
highest law, is a form of mercy. It helps to understand better what is
good and what is evil.
Q: Excellency, you are noted also for being a bishop favorable to the
motu propio with which the Pope has liberalized the use of the pre-conciliar
Archbishop Burke: True. I still recall the contentment with which the
Holy Father presented this document beforehand to a restricted group of
bishops, to which I was invited. With this courageous gesture, the Pope
wished to confirm in the Church that the liturgy must be carried out in
an organic way, without having to perceive traumatic breaks, something
which, unfortunately, happened following the Council.
Personally, I find no difficulty or contradiction in celebrating Holy
Mass according to the Novus Ordo and according to the so-called rite of
St. Pius V. The motu propio "Summorum Pontificum" was a wise gesture
that, I am certain, will bear good fruits in the Church.
Q: Your Excellency, but do not all these characteristics of yours risk
giving you a profile of a hard conservative?
Archbishop Burke: Good things are always conserved. As regards being
"hard," those who know me at least to some degree know that it does not
correspond to my being.