The consistency of Archbishop Burke

Burke 01Remember four years ago when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke roiled various groups by saying he would deny Democratic Sen. John Kerry communion if he presented himself for it? Four years later the most prominent Roman Catholic running for the highest office in the land is a Republican and, shockingly, Burke has the same position on communion as he did before. In fact, Burke is saying that anyone who administers communion should deny it to politicians who publicly oppose church teaching. St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend has the details:

Asked if he would deny Communion to Giuliani if the former New York mayor approached him for the sacrament at the Cathedral Basilica, Burke said: "If the question is about a Catholic who is publicly espousing positions contrary to the moral law and I know that person knows it, yes I would."

In an interview earlier this year, Burke said of Giuliani: "I can't imagine that as a Catholic he doesn't know that his stance on the protection of human life is wrong. If someone is publicly sinning, they should not approach to receive Holy Communion."

Townsend speaks with experts about the potential political fallout of Burke's stand. He cites an August Pew poll showing that only 22 percent of the public knows that Guiliani supports abortion. He speaks with Kerry campaign people about how Burke's statements hurt the campaign. I appreciated that since so many journalists have short-term memory:

After Burke's comments about Kerry in 2004, the archbishop was pilloried by critics who said he was acting as a shill for President George W. Bush's campaign.

Burke's comments about Giuliani show the archbishop to be an equal-opportunity enforcer of canon law, [John] Green[, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life] said.

"This shows the bishop is consistent and nonpartisan on this issue," he said. "Some felt this was a covert maneuver by the church (in 2004), but that doesn't appear to be the case."

The best part of Townsend's story is that he doesn't just look at the current political climate but the larger religious significance. The last half of the piece is about Burke's article making the case that Eucharistic ministers would be committing a mortal sin if they failed to deny Communion to a politician who they knew had been warned by church authorities not to take Communion. Townsend shows how this understanding led to his 2004 comments:

The archbishop said he was struck by the public reaction to his comment, and by the fact that so many Catholics didn't understand the issue. That reaction led him to question his own understanding of the church law that governs the issue, Canon 915, so he began researching it in 2005 and studied it for two years.

Burke is widely recognized as one of the sharpest legal minds in the Catholic church. He is a sitting member of the Vatican's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. His colleagues praised the scholarship in Burke's article. . . .

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic journal First Things, said Burke's reasons for writing were probably more pastoral. "He is concerned because he believes the teaching of the church is being misrepresented to the detriment of the integrity of Catholic teaching, and most importantly to the integrity of the Holy Eucharist," he said.

He quotes the Rev. Thomas Reese, too, confirming my suspicion that it is impossible to quote Neuhaus without also quoting Reese -- and vice versa. But what a thorough piece. I really learned interesting information about Burke and the development of church positions.

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