The Passion of the Archbishop: Burke's Commandment Means No Choice for Catholic Politicians

By Corrigan, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, March 2004 | Go to article overview

The Passion of the Archbishop: Burke's Commandment Means No Choice for Catholic Politicians


Corrigan, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review


The new archbishop of St. Louis, who has decreed that any Catholic politician supporting abortion rights will be barred from Communion, is gathering both critics and devotees. Archbishop Raymond Burke is also garnering national media attention.

A National Review Online piece praised Burke for targeting those who exercise "political power to expose a disfavored class of human beings to unjust killing," and it noted that Burke's critics--Catholic and non-Catholic alike--are liberals.

An article titled, "Holy Orders," in the monthly Church & State suggested that Burke and like-minded bishops were doing the bidding of extremist groups such as the Virginia-based American Life League (ALL). It noted that ALL President Judie Brown described Burke's dictum for all Catholic politicians as simply "a miracle."

Burke first issued his letter of "Notification" for politicians in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., where he served as bishop before coming to St. Louis. The statement called on any pro-choice politicians to renounce their views and "to uphold the natural and divine law regarding the inviolable dignity of all human life."

The statement continued: "To fail to do so is a grave public sin and gives scandal to all the faithful. Therefore, in accord with the norm of can. 915, Catholic legislators, who are members of the Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia, may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion. They are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such time as they publically (sic) renounce their support of these unjust practices."

Burke's dictum inspired a slew of impassioned letters to Wisconsin newspapers and the websites of columnists who took up the matter. Among the responses:

* "If, as some commentators have suggested, Rev. Burke's actions are 'moral,' not 'political,' then why were his remarks only addressed to politicians? Shouldn't he have been reminding all Catholics who refuse to accept the teachings of the Church on certain social issues not to receive the sacraments?"

* "Thank you Bishop Burke for having the moral 'balls' to speak the truth. Do not be disheartened by the cretins who whine about the line between politics and religion."

* "Let me get this straight. It's alright for a priest who has molested little boys to hold the blessed sacrament in his filthy hands, but he is not to allow someone who votes outside of the church's thinking to receive it? I'm a Catholic, and I have a major problem with that kind of thinking."

* "Archbishop-designate Burke has crossed no line of separation of church and state because he has not advocated the establishment of a state religion. He has reminded 'Catholic' politicians that the church has recognized abortion as the grave moral evil it is since the first century."

Politicians feel heat

Pro-choice Catholic politicians in Wisconsin told the state's news media that they would not change the way that they vote on the abortion issue and that they considered Burke's directive to be inappropriate. Typical was the response of state lawmaker Pedro Colon who mused that he never thought his. salvation would be a matter for public debate.

"Under the Constitution, the public has the right to know that, in the end, the votes I cast are driven by my own independent judgment and conscience, not by a set of marching orders given by any church hierarchy, prelate or associated lobby group," said U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

Burke has indicated "that he will consider sending his directive to St. Louis area Catholic politicians as he becomes more familiar with the archdiocese.

With Burke's arrival in St. Louis, many Catholic politicians, who favor reproductive rights, told SJR that they were reluctant to talk about the Burke directive on the record. Some said they thought it extremely unfair that they would be singled out for their views. …

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