Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Archbishop Burke on Twin Evils of Gay Marriage and Abortion: The Lamb Continues to Be Only A Lion

Archbishop Raymond Burke is back in the news—the American news. As I’ve noted before, the former archbishop of St. Louis was sent to Rome last summer to head the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial office in the church beneath the pope himself. Many commentators have suggested that Burke was sent to Rome in accord with the ancient maxim, Promoveatur ut amoveatur: let him be promoted in order to remove him from the scene.

As it follows this maxim, the Catholic church has a history of handing out plum jobs to church officials who make a mess of their pastoral responsibilities. When court documents revealed the extent and longstanding duration of the sexual abuse crisis in American Catholicism in 2002, and when those documents showed the unsavory role that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston had played in hiding and moving around priests abusing children, Law was nudged out of his pastoral responsibilities in Boston. Only to be promoted to the cushy post of Archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome . . . .

The maxim about promoting folks in order to remove them doesn’t apply, unfortunately, to women removed from positions of ministry in the Catholic church. When Ruth Kolpack lost her job as a catechist in Beloit, Wisconsin, earlier this year as a result of her views regarding women’s ordination, church authorities offered her no golden parachute, despite her many years of ministry. Nor has Sister Louise Akers landed a plush job in the Vatican following her recent dismissal by Archbishop Daniel Pilarcyzk from all positions of ministry in the Cincinnati diocese. Akers’s crime? Supporting women’s ordination.

The church is not in the habit of handing out plum jobs to silenced theologians, either—Roger Haight was not given a comfortable sinecure in Rome, with palatial quarters and a handsome salary (both of which Law receives), when the Vatican silenced him at the beginning of 2009. Nor do priests who come out publicly as gay usually receive anything but scorn from the institutional church, in response to their honesty. As Fr. Geoff Farrow reports on his blog, in contravention of canon law, his bishop gave him neither financial support nor health insurance when he came out as gay in 2008 and the bishop booted him. As he notes, a priest accused of pedophilia would have received those benefits.

Unlike what happens to women, lay ministers, and gay priests who have the courage to admit they are gay when they’re unjustly dismissed by Catholic officials, the Burkes and Laws of the Catholic church do well for themselves. The church stands by its men, even (or especially), it seems, when they woefully foul their pastoral nests and damage numerous folks in the process.

Though Cardinal Law has tended to stay in Rome following his promotion-removal, Archbishop Burke now spends his time hopping back and forth across the Atlantic, where he has an important, albeit unofficial, political position in the American Catholic church. He has become something of a darling of the Catholic right in the U.S., where he keeps his hand in by pontificating as frequently as possible about “the” Catholic position on American political matters.

Burke was in the U.S. back in March to attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an event sponsored by Republican political operatives that does all it can to suggest that the Republican party has the endorsement of the Catholic church. This was on the heels of an embarrassing interview Burke gave to American Catholic anti-abortion activist Randall Terry (and here), in which Burke appeared to give official sanction to Terry’s extremist antics, which include skits depicting President Obama ordering doctors to stab babies, and which continue unabated even as I post this piece.

Last November, Burke sought to influence Catholic voters to vote Republican by characterizing the Democratic party as “grievously anti-life” and unworthy of Catholic support. Burke has repeatedly sought to use the Eucharist as a political weapon to try to swing Catholic voters in a Republican direction, as he calls for communion bans on Catholic Democrats running for office. During the last election cycle, he pontificated from Rome about how the Democratic party is in the process of turning itself into the “party of death,” and continued his campaign to encourage bishops to deny communion to selected Democratic candidates like Joe Biden.

And now Burke is back in the U.S. again. Still pontificating. This time about truth and charity. Well, about truth, his version of the truth, the version of truth comfortable to the posh Republican businessfolks who hang onto his pronouncements.

Burke is in the U.S. now to be given an award, the “Service to the Church and Our Nation” award, by the Morley Institute’s InsideCatholic.com news site, headed by the former in-house guru for all things Catholic in the Bush administration, Deal W. Hudson. Predictably, the good archbishop, whom InsideCatholic banquet attendees describe variously as warm, kind, humble, gentle, simple, and quiet—a lion speaking with the voice and face of a lamb—used his platform at the D.C. awards banquet to make a wide range of political observations that play to his Catholic-right audience.

Deal Hudson’s summary of the banquet address (to which the next-to-last link points) says that Burke “returned again and again to the scandal of Catholic politicians who support abortion or same-sex marriage,” insisting that such politicians should be denied communion and Catholic burial—in what Hudson opines was “an obvious reference to the Kennedy funeral.” The lion with the voice and face of a lamb also used his InsideCatholic forum to take a swipe at Catholic supporters of health care reform, noting (Hudson’s summary) that endorsing universal health coverage because it achieves “some desirable outcomes” while it “includes abortion” is “false reasoning.”

The InsideCatholic banquet was not Archbishop Burke’s sole forum on this trip to the U.S. According to Michael Sean Winters at America magazine, he also gave an interview to FOX news, in which he stated that the health care reform bill prepared by Senator Baucus contains a “mandate” for abortion—a claim Winters flatly dismisses. Winters says that Burke told FOX that the Baucus bill “provides for the provision of abortion, so it’s simply not acceptable.”

As Winters notes, the only sense in which that statement might be parsed as true is that the health care reform bill does not outlaw abortion outright, something it cannot do with Roe v. Wade on the books. Winters goes on to discuss the “nettlesome policy issues” created by the interface of health care reform, abortion, and Catholic teaching. In a subsequent posting following up on Winters’s discussion of those issues, I want to discuss the abortion question and health care reform more closely.

For now, though, I want to return to Archbishop Burke’s claim that abortion and same-sex marriage are necessarily linked for Catholic voters, as a kind of diptych of non-negotiable truths on the basis of which “true” Catholics will cast their votes. When I hear the leonine archbishop with the voice and face of the lamb talking about abortion, I have to admit, I have a tendency to stop my ears—just as I do when I hear Mr. Hudson, with his history of sexually assaulting a co-ed student at Fordham University, talking about the sanctity of marriage.

To say that the Catholic church in the U.S. is developing an image problem for its anti-abortion politics—and this problem is growing because of the lamentably unwise, unjust, and uncharitable stance the church has chosen to take regarding gay people—would be an understatement. The church’s draconian anti-gay politics are undercutting its attempt to make a persuasive argument in the public square about the sanctity of life.

The image problem the Catholic church is creating for itself by its anti-gay money laundering in places like Maine and its use of gay people as political cannon fodder to distract attention from mishandling of clerical abuse cases in places like Connecticut, is becoming a substance problem. The homophobic image the church is building for itself in Maine and Connecticut and many other places in the U.S. evacuates its pro-life teachings of any compelling substance, for many Americans, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

And pushing the lion-like Republican archbishop with the voice and face of a lamb center-stage to babble to his rich constituents about the twin evils of gay marriage and abortion is not going to help matters. Not for many of us. I’m surprised, frankly, that my centrist Catholic brothers and sisters continue to listen. I long ago stopped doing so, when I realized that the lion was only a roaring lion seeking to devour. There never has been a lamb there.

Ask the good people of St. Louis who jubilated when the leonine lamb got sent packing to Rome after his pastoral shenanigans in their diocese.