The Overseer of Justice
Interview with Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic
Inside the Vatican Magazine
June 13, 2009
By Andrew Rabel, reporting from Rome
"It is through our union with the heart of Mary, that she brings us to the
Sacred Heart of Jesus." - Archbishop Raymond Burke
Pope Benedict is continuing the tradition of his predecessors, John Paul II
and Paul VI, in being a pilgrim Pope, as shown by his recent trip to the Holy
Land. Do you feel he is reaching the people just like John Paul did?
Archbishop Raymond Burke: Very much so. Surely Pope Benedict is of a
different personality. He is a more reserved person than John Paul II, who
seemed to thrive on contact with many people. But Pope Benedict reaches people
in a similar way. I would like to cite two examples.
On his visit to the United States in April of 2008, which the media had
predicted would be a disaster, he won the hearts of the American people, even
the critical media personnel. Some were overcome with emotion because they could
not fail to perceive his holiness, the beautiful paternity of the Pope for the
My second example is the Wednesday audiences. Many people thought that, with the
death of Pope John Paul II, the numbers attending them would drop. But the fact
of the matter is that they have only increased. People are uplifted attending
them, not because he is teaching anything that is innovative, but he is so good
at being a teacher of the faith.
Since taking over the helm of the Apostolic Signatura last year, can you
explain what your work in this dicastery has been like?
Burke: The Apostolic Signatura has several areas of responsibility which
I will describe.
(1) It treats certain matters regarding the Roman Rota, for example, a complaint
of nullity against a definitive decision of the Roman Rota, or a recourse
against the denied new examination of a case, or an exception of suspicion
against a Rotal judge. In this area, the Apostolic Signatura also handles
conflicts of competence between tribunals which are not subject to the same
tribunal of appeal. The amount of activity in this area of responsibility is
(2) As the Church’s only administrative tribunal, the Apostolic Signatura
handles recourses against individual administrative acts taken by the offices of
the Roman Curia or approved by them. Normally, the recourses are against an
administrative act of a Bishop or other administrative authority in the Church,
which an office of the Roman Curia has approved. The administrative recourse
before the Apostolic Signatura must contend that the Church’s law was violated
either in the deciding of the act or in the procedure by which the act was made.
For example, the Apostolic Signatura has handled recourses involving the
suppression of a parish or the dismissal of a religious from his or her
institute, or the alienation of temporal goods of a diocese or institute of
consecrated life. There is a large volume of activity in this area of
(3) The Apostolic Signatura also serves as a kind of department of justice for
the Church, in the sense that it has the responsibility of overseeing the
correct administration of justice in the Church. The supervision of the
tribunals of the universal Church clearly constitutes a great deal of work.
There is always more that could be done. Apart from responding to questions
regarding officials or advocates of the tribunals, it also responds to petitions
of a dispensation from the academic title required for various tribunal offices
or of the extension of the competence of a tribunal.
(4) Finally, the Apostolic Signatura fulfills certain responsibilities given to
it through concordats between the Holy See and certain nations, for example, the
examination of declarations of nullity of marriage for which effects in civil
law are sought. There is a steady amount of activity in this area.
In August 2008, you dedicated the church of the Shrine of Our Lady of
Guadalupe at La Crosse, Wisconsin, where you were bishop for several years,
before being transferred to St. Louis, and then Rome. Did your decision as
bishop of La Crosse to erect a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe have any
connection to the unapproved Marian cult at Necedah, also in Wisconsin?
Burke: Interestingly, the town of Necedah is in the same diocese, that of
La Crosse, and when I was made the bishop there, I saw that as late as 1995,
pilgrims were still going there, long after the death of the alleged seer, Mrs.
Mary Ann Van Hoof.
I judged that one of the reasons why unapproved seers like Mrs. Van Hoof gained
so much power was the failure to promote fully authentic Marian devotion. I was
inspired to found the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, first of all, as a means
of fostering genuine Marian devotion in the Church. In that way, I wanted also
provide a place of true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Diocese of La
Crosse. The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has a long history and belongs
especially to the continent of America, but it is not as well known in North
America as it is in Central and South America. The devotion speaks especially to
the apostolate of the respect for human life. Our Lady of Guadalupe is,
therefore, more recently and rightly known as the Mother of the Unborn. Her
intercession on behalf of all human life was a particular inspiration to me in
founding her shrine at La Crosse.
One of the things which struck me as a newly ordained priest and has continued
to strike me throughout my entire life as a priest and a bishop is simply the
radical decline of the devotional life in general. We know that our faith in the
Sacraments needs to have ways to express itself in our everyday living, and at
times when we are not, for instance, participating in the Holy Mass or praying
before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Devotions provide precisely very concrete ways to express our love of Christ, of
the Blessed Mother and of the saints in our homes and places of work, throughout
the day. When I was named a Bishop, I understood that I needed to do something
to renew the devotional life. Being Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, in which
there was a false shrine to the Blessed Mother, it seemed particularly fitting
to establish a Marian shrine.
I thought that Our Lord wanted very much an authentic devotional life, and
seemingly He has blessed the work of the Shrine.
It has not been easy to establish and develop the Shrine, and there is still
more to do. There has been, for example, a fair amount of negative reaction from
people who erroneously think that the Second Vatican Council wanted to do away
with all devotions and who were of a mind that devotional life was not
Then there have been others who objected to it because they said that the money
which has been used for the Shrine should instead haven been given to the poor.
These have been the objections which have been raised, but through it all Our
Lord has sustained the work.
Now that President Obama has completed the visit to Notre Dame, and delivered
his address, what lessons can be learnt from the event?
Burke: We all have witnessed the compromise and, indeed, betrayal of the
Catholic identity of Notre Dame University. Thoughtful Catholics cannot help but
reflect upon the great danger for a Catholic institution in pursuing a kind of
prestige in the secular world, which leads to a betrayal of the sacred aspect of
its work, namely the fidelity to Christ and His teaching.
So I think everybody now realizes the gravity of the situation. Also I believe
that the whole situation has sensitized more people with regard to the gravity
of the practice of procured abortion in our nation, that is, they realize even
more how far we have gone away from God’s will for human life. That the premiere
Catholic university in the United States would give an honorary doctorate of law
to one of the most aggressive pro-abortion politicians in our history is
Now, we cannot forget what has happened at Notre Dame. We need to take the
measures that are necessary so that this is not repeated in other places. If it
could happen at Notre Dame, where else could it happen?
We have to give witness to the Gospel of Life in a way that people can receive
it. Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, the diocese in which
Notre Dame University is located, has given a very powerful witness. He knows
the good things that are happening at Notre Dame, for example, a very strong
participation in sacramental life among the students, daily Mass, regular
confession and so forth. As a Bishop, he wants to save these good things, while
at the same time correcting what is gravely wrong.
I have friends who are professors or students at the
university who tell me that there are a great number of the students are very
devout in their practice of the Catholic faith, and strive in every way to live
their faith and grow in it. We certainly want to save that and promote it.
Why did you take umbrage at the conduct of Mr. Randall Terry of Operation
Rescue in playing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, an interview he
videotaped of you on a visit to Rome?
Burke: The only thing I would say is what I said it in a public statement
which I made after I became aware of how Mr. Terry used the video. I think it
bears repeating that I consented to the video as a means of encouragement of
people who are involved in prolife work.
I thought that Mr. Terry was making the little home video to show it to his
prolife workers at one of their meetings. But in no way did I understand that it
was it to be used to criticize my brother bishops. That is the part I consider
reprehensible. I stand by everything I said in the video, but when you put the
two things together, that is, his public criticism of two bishops at a press
conference during which he also played the video, one could not help but think I
was joining him in criticizing these bishops. That was gravely wrong.
Recently you participated in an ordination to the priesthood of some
Franciscans of the Immaculate at Tarquinia, north of Rome, according to the
extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (the old rite). It is not very often that
one sees a senior Churchman celebrating so solemn a ceremony according to the
extraordinary form. What was your reason for doing this?
Burke: First of all, I have celebrated a number of priesthood ordinations
according to the extraordinary form. One very beautiful one took place in Saint
Louis in June of 2007, on the feast of the Sacred Heart. When the Friars of the
Immaculate requested that I celebrate the ordinations according to the
extraordinary form, I was happy to accept because I have known them for a long
time, and they staff the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at La Crosse.
To put it another way, I have never tried to downplay or hide in any way my
strong support of what Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Church to do in Summorum
Pontificum, and what his predecessor, the servant of God John Paul II asked us
to do in Ecclesia Dei adflicta, but rather to accept their liturgical direction
fully and wholeheartedly.
In responding to a request like this from the Franciscans of the Immaculate,
do you have any sympathy with the Kolbean Marian theology which is their charism,
and its current manifestation, in pushing for a final Marian dogma of Our Lady
as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix?
Burke: I certainly am very sympathetic to the Kolbean theology by which I
have been enriched for many years. The first papal ceremony that I ever
attended, as a first-year seminarian at the Pontifical North American College,
was the beatification of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and I have had the blessing
over the years to get to know his writings and to visit the sacred places of his
heroic life and death in Poland. I am certainly very steeped in the whole
spirituality of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as the way to the Sacred Heart of
Jesus. It is through our union of heart with Mary, and our striving to imitate
her, that is, our making our hearts like hers, that she brings us to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus.
With regard to the fifth Marian dogma as it is often called, for my part, I
believe it to be part of the ordinary teaching of the Church. Although I have no
special competence in the area, I certainly am supportive of such a declaration.
The teaching is part of my faith.
Some devotees of Our Lady of America, are rather critical of the letter you
wrote when you were Archbishop of St. Louis, claiming that the devotion had now
been approved. They say that because Sister Mary Ephrem Neuzil (the seer who
initiated and encouraged this devotion until her death in the year 2000) came
from Ohio, it was not within your authority to write the letter?
Burke: I was simply asked to give a canonical opinion as to whether the
devotion had ever been properly recognized. It was perfectly proper to ask me to
write the letter because I have a certain knowledge of canon law and was
provided all of the necessary documentation to reach a conclusion about the
question of the approval of the devotion. After studying the documentation, I
was able to write the letter. The letter was sent to my brother Bishops in the
United States; it was not written to a wide audience. Before sending the letter,
I sent a draft of it to the Archbishop of Cincinnati and the Bishop of Toledo,
in whose jurisdiction Sister Mary Ephrem lived a good part of her religious
So what the letter simply says is that, yes, Archbishop Paul Leibold [a previous
archbishop of Cincinnati] knew of this devotion from its beginning, when he was
a priest, and eventually approved it.
I am sad there are these divisions in regard to the devotion, because I think it
is a very beautiful devotion and especially fitting for our time. Our Lady’s
message on the living of the Holy Trinity within us, and its manifestation in
the purity of the young is so much needed in our culture, today.
I was not in a position to approve anything. You can criticize me for many
things, but what I did in writing the letter was correct.
Well because of the position you have now in Rome, can you expedite Mary’s
request to have the statue of Our Lady of America enshrined at the Basilica of
the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC?
Burke: No, there is nothing I can do here. That decision entirely rests
with the competent bishops in the United States.
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