Reflects on New Role in Vatican and Election-Year Politics
Archbishop Raymond Burke
Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Vatican City
ROME, OCT. 2, 2008 - 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 tribunals worldwide?
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 diocese.
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 -- 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, unfortunately, rare.
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 to abortion.
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 Mass.
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.
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