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The Overseer of Justice

Interview with Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura

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 whole world.

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 somewhat limited.

(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 responsibility.

(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 important.

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 profoundly shocking.

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 life.

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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