A week after praising Presbyterians for endorsing same-sex marriage -- and scolding United Methodists for not doing the same -- the Religion News Service caricatures the views of a Catholic cardinal about gays.
This week, the target is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was moved from a powerful Vatican post to patron of the Knights of Malta. When LifeSite News sought him out, he agreed to an interview.
An interview that displeased RNS, which summarized Burke's views in a startling headline: "Cardinal Raymond Burke: Gays, remarried Catholics, murderers are all the same."
Whoa. Keep that guy away from electric chairs, right?
What Burke told LifeSite, of course -- again, after he was asked -- was that the Catholic Church still considers some deeds to be grave sins. He continues:
And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.
LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?
CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…
RNS writer David Gibson acknowledges that the comments "break little theological ground; the church has always taught that sin is sin, and some sins are especially serious." But he presses his case:
But comparing those situations in any context is unusual, and certainly out of step with the pastoral tone that Francis has set in his papacy. Moreover, reformers argue that a murderer — or almost any other sinner — can go to confession, receive absolution, and take Communion in a state of grace. But there is no such option for a gay person or those who are divorced and remarried, except permanent celibacy.
The cardinal’s comments take on added weight in the context of the increasingly heated debate that Francis opened over how the church should respond to rapid changes in family life in the modern world.
Why is this story holding a microscope to a largely ceremonial leader? Because, according to RNS -- right in the lede sentence -- Burke was "demoted" in a way that was "viewed as a way to sideline one of the pontiff's most outspoken critics on the right."
Mind you, this story lacks a label like "opinion" or "analysis" or "commentary" or "editorial," which would have freed the writer to stack cards and give his viewpoint. No, this is all set forth as factual coverage.
I'm not the only one who noticed. "What is this?" one of our faithful readers wrote us. "I looked and couldn't tell if I was supposed to be reading a news story, analysis or opinion. But this is David Gibson, so maybe he gets a pass?"
In places, the RNS article seems to try to link the gay cause with those of divorced and remarried people. Gibson hearkens to the Synod of Bishops last October, and says church reformers share similar views "toward gay couples and those who are divorced or cohabitating."
He quotes Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn that the Church should "look at the person and not the sexual orientation." He also cites Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who says that if a gay couple has been together for decades, you can't say the relationship is "nothing." (In fairness, however, RNS notes that Marx specifically doesn't endorse homosexuality.)
So that's two against one, on the side of changing church law about gay couples. (Oh, and only Burke's age, 66, is listed. Code for "old and rigid," perhaps?) Actually, it's three against one, if you share the belief that Burke's words clash with Francis' "pastoral tone."
But the article could have mentioned someone like Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who defended traditional families as a way of understanding the relationship of God with his people. Muller also said that children have a "natural, inherent right to a father and a mother to live with them." But that wouldn't sound very reform-minded.
Nor is it unanimous that the pope moved Burke to the Knights of Malta as some kind of demotion. Not when Francis himself denied he was punishing Burke for speaking his mind.
And how yielding, in fact, is Francis on gay matters? Yes, he's spoken pastorally, wanting to accept gays who are seeking God, and wanting to help parents stand by gay children. Not so yielding, though, if you ask about approval of same-sex marriage.
In January, for instance, the pope said, "The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life." He also decried "growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage."
The same Crux magazine article noted that in November, during a Vatican conference, Francis called heterosexual marriage "an anthropological fact … that cannot be qualified based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history."
BTW, LifeSite asked Burke whether he was giving a doctrinal answer to a pastoral matter. He called that a "false distinction":
There cannot be anything that's truly pastorally sound which is not doctrinally sound. In other words: you cannot divide the truth from love. In other words still: it can't be loving not to live the truth. And so to say that we're just making pastoral changes that have nothing to do with doctrine is false.
The RNS article ignores that quote. Didn't fit the thesis, I guess.
Faithful Reader also faults the RNS piece for overlooking Burke's positive statement about married couples: "There is no greater force against evil than the love of a man and woman in marriage. After the Holy Eucharist, it has a power beyond anything we can imagine." Our reader considered that quote to be the "real story" because "I have never, in all my reading on this issue, heard any cleric say anything like that about marriage."
Most of the above is just to argue with the individual points. The major point, remember, is labeling. RNS could use all the arguments and selective quotes it wanted with proper warning to the reader -- a warning that it had crossed from reporting to commentary. Why didn't it?
Soooo, what was Burke's real offense here? Apparently that he still speaks for a wing of cardinals who don’t want to exchange centuries-old teachings for modern moral fashion. How dare he try to sway opinion? Leave that to reporters.