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Babette Francis

Writing in the latest edition of the  Canon Law journal, Periodica De Re Canonica, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, bishop of St. Louis, Missouri, has called his brother bishops to task for their silence on the problem of Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryo research, the  homosexual political agenda or other legislation “contrary to the natural moral law.”

Burke’s lengthy article addresses the scandal during the 2004 presidential election campaign  when Senator John Kerry insisted that he could be militantly pro-abortion, ignore “Vatican”  teachings on the sanctity of human life and marriage, and remain a good Catholic and a good  Catholic politician.

During the 2004 election campaign, the scandal became so acute that the US bishops met in  Denver in June 2004 to decide how to handle those Catholics in public life who persisted in flouting  Catholic teaching, and how to deal with Catholic colleges giving a platform to pro-abortion commencement speakers.  . The statement produced from this meeting, addressed the issue of refusing  Communion by saying    "Such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the  established canonical and pastoral principles.  Bishops  can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action."
Saying  he would  deny Communion to pro-abortion Republican presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani,  Archbishop Burke said the 2004 Bishops statement “failed to take account of the clear requirement to  exclude from Holy Communion those who, after appropriate admonition, obstinately persist in  supporting publicly legislation which is contrary to the natural moral law.”   He said he disagreed with the bishops deferring communion  decisions to local Church officials and said a uniform policy is needed nationwide

In his essay Archbishop Burke particularly takes aim at his brother bishops who felt no pressing need to  observe the Church’s canonical strictures, saying, “To remain silent is to permit serious  confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law. Confusion, of course, is one of the  most insidious fruits of scandalous behavior...”    Pro-life advocates in the US  have long identified the lack  of leadership on the part of Church leaders as the biggest obstacle to re-instituting legal  protections for the unborn.

At the height of the scandal, while still bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin,  Burke was the only  bishop out of 195 US dioceses to issue a formal, or “canonical”, ban on pro-abortion and other  dissenting politicians from receiving Communion. For this distinction, Burke has been  compared with the 16th century English Bishop John Fisher who, alone among the English  bishops, refused to ratify King Henry VIII’s claim to be the head of the Church of England and  was executed at the Tower of London and later canonized.

Archbishop Burke's essay further highlights the vast and growing divide in the Catholic Church between  self-styled “progressives” who have, since the 1960’s, gained ascendancy in most Catholic  institutions, and those who continue to hold and defend the Church’s teachings, especially those  on the sanctity of life. The gulf was perhaps well illustrated by an announcement by  then-archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who, as the Kerry scandal was  growing, said that although he is personally opposed to pro-abortion politicians receiving  communion, he would not be “comfortable” refusing them.

McCarrick was appointed to head a task force for the bishops “studying” the problem. It was  later revealed that at the Denver meeting , McCarrick withheld a crucial  portion of an instruction from then-Cardinal Ratzinger that pro-abortion politicians “must” be  refused Communion.

Cardinal Ratzinger, echoing the calls of faithful Catholics calling for an end to the scandal, cited the  Catholic Church’s Canon Law number 915 that says, “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.”

Archbishop  Burke, a veteran of clashes between Catholic bishops and  politicians, has attempted for years to enlist fellow bishops to deny Holy Communion to  wayward politicians. Now he  is invoking the church's highest punishment -- mortal sin -- to  persuade the lay and ordained Catholics who distribute Communion at Mass to safeguard the  sacrament.

Drawing on the works of the late Italian Jesuit scholar Felice Cappello, Burke says those  ministers are "held, under pain of mortal sin, to deny the sacraments to the unworthy."

"It is clear that church discipline places an obligation on the minister of Holy Communion to
refuse Holy Communion to persons known, by the public, to be in mortal sin," Burke writes in a
new journal article.  Burke lays out his case like a legal brief in Periodica de re Canonica, a journal widely read in seminaries and published by Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, an elite school for
Catholic clergy.

"No matter how often a bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the church regarding procured  abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports  legislation permitting the gravest of injustices, and, at the same time, presents himself to  receive Holy Communion, then his teachings ring hollow," Burke writes.

A former top official in the Signatura, the Vatican's high court, and a noted expert in canon law,  Burke previously has kicked off public debates over policing the Communion rail. In 2004, Burke and a handful of other bishops said they would refuse Communion to  presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Burke also said Catholics who voted for  pro-abortion-rights politicians, such as Kerry, should refrain from taking the sacrament until  they confessed their "mortal sin."

In his new article, the archbishop explicitly criticizes his fellow bishops, the majority of whom
voted in 2004 to leave the Communion decision up to individual bishops.

Burke retorts: "The question regarding the objective state of Catholic politicians who  knowingly and willingly hold opinions contrary to natural moral law would hardly seem to  change from place to place."

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the influential conservative Catholic journal First
Things, called Burke's article "a scholarly tour de force."

"The (archbishop's) concern is not a political concern," Neuhaus said. "The article is about,
how does the church preserve the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist?"

Responding to Archbishop Burke's article,  retired Cardinal  Theodore McCarrick of  Washington DC  said   “I very much respect his position. It’s not mine.”

US pro-life leader, Judie Brown said Cardinal McCarrick’s comments on Communion for pro-abort ion Catholics  is a  “poke in the eye to believers" and that " cowardice is Catholicism's Achilles heal".  She wrote: in October 2007: 

"Recent remarks by retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick are a reminder of the tragic situation  that exists within the Catholic Church these days. It is as though we were living in a twilight  zone where there is no right or wrong, no moral absolutes of any kind, no guiding principles  that apply in every situation regardless of the persons involved.

"In a recent statement, Cardinal McCarrick took aim at Archbishop Raymond Burke’s treatise on
why every person who distributes Holy Communion must be prepared to deny the sacrament to  any public figure that is Catholic and is also pro-abortion. He said of Archbishop Burke, “I  very much respect his position. It’s not mine.”

"What exactly does that mean? It occurs to me that it means that the cardinal does not take  Church law seriously, but rather perceives a myriad of choices with regard to how a particular  canon in church law should be implemented. I find that astounding, but also perfectly  understandable in today’s relativistic atmosphere.

"The canon law in question is not confusing, but states quite clearly that those 'who obstinately  persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.'  This particular canon  is not any more debatable than one of the Ten Commandments or any of the other canon laws. In  fact, the law in question is designed to accomplish two things: protect Christ from sacrilege and  provide the errant Catholic with an example of how far he has strayed from Church teaching in  the hope that the soul will repent and come back into the fold.

"Cardinal McCarrick did go on to say that pro-choice Catholic politicians need to be  persuaded that their position is wrong rather than denying them the body and blood of Christ.  The precise reason why this thinking is flawed is perhaps best stated by Pope Benedict XVI,  who while airborne in flight to Mexico a few months ago, told a group of reporters that the  Mexican bishops’ threat of excommunication for Catholic politicians who voted in favor of the  new abortion law 'was not something arbitrary, but part of Church law. It’s based simply on  the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going to  communion with the body of Christ.'

"The Holy Father’s words rang around the world, as one Catholic writer opined, and even  moved evangelicals like Dr. James Dobson and Frank Pastore to hail his courageous statement.  So why isn’t every single bishop, priest, deacon and Eucharistic minister in the Catholic  Church equally motivated and inspired by this pope?

"I fear the answer to this question is that there is too much political posturing and not enough  commitment to saving souls in far too many places within the Catholic Church these days. There  was once a pope who, being quite similar in many ways to our current pope, gave stern  warnings to the bishops of his day. His name was Gregory. He lived in the late sixth century  and he once told his priests in a homily:

"'There is something about the life of the shepherd, dearest brothers, which discourages me  greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I accuse myself of the very same  thing, although I fall into it unwillingly – compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I  speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we  show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my  opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to  practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are  silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.'

"Such courageous words came – and indeed should come again – at a time when the Catholic  Church’s bishops and priests truly need to do much more to consistently preach the truth, ignore  the political or media consequences, and persist in saving the souls entrusted to them by God......

"A bishop is, at the very foundation of his calling, a physician of souls. He is the one to whom  we should be able to look for moral certitude, passionate teaching and unequivocal guidance in  those areas of our lives that often appear to be so muddled that we cannot see our way past the problem. Abortion has become such a condition for far too many in our midst. The majority of  Catholics actually have no problem with abortion, and when they see pro-abortion public  figures that are also Catholic getting away with scandalous behavior such as receiving Christ in Holy Communion, their inability to see the wrongness of the act of abortion becomes exacerbated.

"Who is to blame for this? Is the physician of souls no longer making house calls? Unfortunately
I think that is the case.  I mean no disrespect to Cardinal McCarrick, or to any of his peers who are frequently
disinterested in enforcing Canon 915, but I have to say that they have created a most dreadful  situation that has left far too many of us in a state of frustration, anxiety and sorrow. For  example, when the news about Cardinal McCarrick’s most recent comments began to impact on  others, one distressed friend of mine described the situation as 'a poke in the eye to believers;  a statement full of disdain and insouciance.' And perhaps that is the most deplorable aspect of  this current predicament.

"From a long line of similar disturbing remarks uttered from the mouths of Catholic bishops, it is
becoming increasingly clear that every bright line defining who a Catholic is and what a  Catholic believes is being blurred beyond recognition. Whether it is a McCarrick 'style' or a  Connecticut 'explanation' or a San Francisco 'apology',  the bottom line in all of this is the  same: no guts. The clarity of what it means to be a Catholic is being distorted, dismantled  and--ultimately, if we are not careful--destroyed. And that is the greatest tragedy of all:  witnessing the decay from within the Church without the ability to fix it.

"The Achilles heel is cowardice, my friends. It boils down to an unwillingness to battle the  forces of evil, whether it is by confronting the media, the wayward politician or the persons  who would dare to bring disdain into the house of God. If we cannot observe courage in our  shepherds, what are we to think? If I had my way, I would focus attention on the bishops who  have for so long been so steadfast in their leadership, their strong backbone and their holiness, and I would say to the rest of them,

"Please seek in fervent prayer and with all humility the gifts you need from God to develop the  ability to never, ever step away from your responsibilities as bishops of the Catholic Church.  For the sake of the preservation of the holy, Catholic Church you claim to serve, and all those  souls the Lord has entrusted to your care, please show us the way to Christ and our eternal home".

Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of  Endeavour Forum Inc.  She gratefully acknowledges LifeSite News as the source for much of the information in this article.




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