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Cardinal Burke: Bishops have ‘sacred duty’ to apply canon law to pro-abortion Catholic politicians

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Cardinal Raymond Burke. (CNA file photo. / null)
Rome Newsroom, Oct 29, 2021 / 04:25 am (CNA).

On the eve of President Joe Biden’s meeting with Pope Francis, a U.S. cardinal said that Catholic bishops have a “sacred duty” to apply canon law by advising pro-abortion politicians not to receive Holy Communion.

In a 2,800-word statement issued on Oct. 28, Cardinal Raymond Burke recalled his efforts to persuade Catholic politicians to defend the lives of unborn children while serving as the bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and later of St. Louis, Missouri.

He said that the experience had convinced him that the “common refrain” that more dialogue was necessary to achieve a breakthrough was “at best, naïve.”

The 73-year-old cardinal made the intervention ahead of the U.S. bishops’ plenary assembly in Baltimore, Maryland.

He said that participants in the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly on Nov. 15-18 would discuss the application of Canon 915 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.

The canon says: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Burke explained that he was speaking out because the issue was “a matter of life and death for the unborn and of eternal salvation for the Catholic politicians involved.”

He said he had hoped to offer the reflection “much sooner,” but was unable to because of his “recent health difficulties” after testing positive for COVID-19.

In his reflection, the cardinal recalled the U.S. bishops’ debate about Communion for Catholic politicians who defied Church teaching in Denver, Colorado, in June 2004.

He noted that, as the then archbishop of St. Louis, he had “admonished” the Catholic presidential candidate John Kerry not to present himself for Communion due to his support for abortion.

He said that during a break in the bishops’ plenary meeting, “one of the eminent members of the Conference of Bishops” confronted him on a stairwell, shaking his finger at Burke, and saying: “You cannot do what you have been doing without the approval of the Conference of Bishops.”

Burke said that he responded “by pointing out that, when I die, I will appear before the Lord to give an account of my service as bishop, not before the Conference of Bishops.”

Recalling the outcome of the USCCB meeting, Burke said: “Ultimately, the President, the then Bishop Wilton Gregory of the Diocese of Belleville, remanded the matter to a Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians under the chairmanship of the then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who was clearly opposed to the application of can. 915 in the case of Catholic politicians supporting procured abortion and other practices which gravely violate the moral law.”

“The Task Force was comprised of a group of bishops with mixed views on the subject. In any case, with time, the Task Force was forgotten, and the critical issue was left unaddressed by the Conference of Bishops.”

“When Bishop Gregory announced the Task Force, the bishop sitting next to me observed that we could now be certain that the issue would not be addressed.”

The cardinal insisted that both in La Crosse and St. Louis, he had intervened “pastorally” and in an “appropriately confidential manner” with Catholic politicians. He recalled that the legislators often refused to engage with him.

“Regarding the refusal of the legislators to meet with me, I must observe that I find, at best, naïve the common refrain that what is needed is more dialogue with the Catholic politicians and legislators in question,” he commented.

“In my experience, they are not willing to discuss the matter because the teaching of the natural law, which necessarily is also the teaching of the Church, is beyond discussion.”

“In some cases, too, I have had the strong impression that they were unwilling to discuss the matter because they were simply unwilling to have their minds and hearts changed. The truth remains that procured abortion is the knowing and willing destruction of a human life.”

Burke said that following the U.S. bishops’ “difficult” meeting in Denver, he traveled to Rome, where he met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who would be elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

“Cardinal Ratzinger assured me that the Congregation had studied my practice and found nothing objectionable about it. He only cautioned me not to support publicly candidates for office, something which, in fact, I had never done,” he recalled.

“He expressed some surprise at my doubt in the matter, given a letter which he had written to the United States bishops, which had addressed the question thoroughly. He asked whether I had read his letter. I told him that I had not received the letter and asked whether he could kindly provide a copy for me. He smiled and suggested that I read it on a popular blog, asking the English-speaking official to make a photocopy of the text as it appeared in its entirety on the blog.”

Burke continued: “The letter in question sets forth in an authoritative manner the Church’s constant teaching and practice.”

“The failure to distribute it to the United States bishops certainly contributed to the failure of the bishops in June of 2004 to take appropriate action in the implementation of can. 915.”

“Now, I am told that it is maintained that the letter was confidential and, therefore, cannot be published. The truth is that it was published, already in early July of 2004, and that clearly the Prefect of the Congregation, who authored it, was not at all disturbed about the fact.”

Burke, who served as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome from 2008 to 2014, noted that 17 years after the Denver meeting, the U.S. bishops were still wrestling with “the most serious question” of applying Canon 915 to Catholic politicians supporting policies gravely opposed to Church teaching.

“In fact, the obligation of the individual bishop is a matter of universal Church discipline, regarding faith and morals, over which the Conference of Bishops has no authority,” he wrote.

“In fact, a number of bishops have understood their sacred duty in the matter and are taking appropriate action. A Conference of Bishops fulfills an important role of support for the diocesan bishop, but it cannot replace the authority that belongs properly to him. It is the diocesan bishop, not the Conference, that applies the universal law to a particular situation.”

The task of bishops’ conferences, he said, is to help bishops carry out their “sacred duty.”

He said: “What more corresponds to the promotion of ‘the greater good which the Church offers to humanity’ than the safeguarding and fostering of human life created in the image and likeness of God, and redeemed by the Most Precious Blood of Christ, God the Son Incarnate, by correcting the scandal of Catholic politicians who publicly and obstinately promote procured abortion.”

He concluded: “I invite you to pray with me for the Church in the United States of America and in every nation, that, faithful to the mission of Christ, her Bridegroom, she will be faithful, limpid, and uncompromising in the application of can. 915, defending the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, safeguarding the souls of Catholic politicians who would grievously violate the moral law and still present themselves to receive Holy Communion, thereby committing sacrilege, and preventing the most serious scandal caused by the failure to observe the norm of can. 915.”

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  1. It’s good to hear him stating the obvious.

    On the other hand – why are we STILL having this conversation? Giving Holy Communion to ‘catholic’ politicians who are in clear and open violation of Church Dogma, specifically abortion, started out as a scandal a few decades ago. After a while it stopped being a scandal, the primary reason being that the Church officials consistently refused to do anything about it, opting instead to call for (still) more ‘dialogue’ on the subject. (Yada yada yada.)

    When someone like Congressman Lieu from California who claims to be a Catholic can tweet about his support for abortion and his intent to continue to do so, followed by his saying – “Deny me Holy Communion – I DARE you”, and (to the best of my knowledge) NOTHING is done or even said in response – what are we laity supposed to do? What are we supposed to believe? WHO are we supposed to believe? What are we supposed to think?

    On that unhappy note, let me conclude by repeating – It is good to hear Cardinal Burke stating the obvious.

  2. As Cardinal Burke advises the earlier “task force” similar to the now USCCB Fall general assembly consisting of bishops with conflicting views will end the same. Nothing accomplished. Chastised when Archbishop St Louis by a prominent USCCB member his response deserve best line recognition, “When I die, I will appear before the Lord to give an account of my service as bishop, not before the Conference of Bishops.” It appears the USCCB controlled by papal favoritti Cardinals Cupich, Gregory, Tobin supported by bishop McElroy and a host of others is a dead horse. Bishops and cardinals have to speak up, [and most importantly act] independently like Cardinals Burke and Aquila. The idea of unity in purpose is a charade as is the fear of disunity. It already exists. What does exist is unity among the faithful in coherence with Apostolic Tradition.

  3. Today Bergoglio is reliably reported on multiple news media to have told Biden in a face-to-face audience he is a “good Catholic” and that he should “continue to receive Holy Communion”. I have a question for Cardinal Burke. Since, as Terence McManus notes above, you have once again stated the obvious that a bishop has a “sacred duty”to apply canon law and refuse Communion to pro-abortion politicians, do you now publicly acknowledge that Bergoglio has violated his “sacred duty” and in consequence has forfeited his office of Pope by his sacrilege and heresy? The time has come for straight talk and direct answers without further “dubia”, hasn’t it?

    • No, the pope does not forfeit his office when a politician self servingly reports what the Pope is supposed to have said.
      And even if he said it, then the pope has not made an official declaration on a matter of faith and morals. He said something to a visitor, nothing more. You guys who think the Pope is not the pope because of something he may or may not have said, based on something you read in the mewspaper have to restrain yourselves a bit.

      • Well said, samton911. People are jumping to conclusions based on reports that may or may not reflect the whole truth. The Pope has made it abundantly clear to all and sundry that abortion is a serious sin and those who support it should not receive communion. But unlike the Pope’s statements, the reports suit their ideolog and so they run with it.
        The adulteress was, in our eyes a serious sinner, but Jesus did not condemn her. In fact, Jesus never condemned any individual. He spoke against hypocrites and those who scandalize children, but never condemned a single person. Why? He came to save us.

        • He did say there were few workers in the harvest and clearly spoke about going to places other than Glory; which means everyone is not going to make it to Salvation.

      • I am not convinced we, as lay Catholics, have the power to determine whether or not a Pope is a heretic. We certainly don’t have the authority to depose him. Maybe the Bishops of the Church do, or maybe they don’t, depending on theologians are saying. All this talk of online trolls who declare the Pope or a certain Bishop has “forfeit” his office because he sneezed the wrong way is laughable, even childish.

        Whatever one’s opinion is of Pope Francis (and I admit I am highly critical of him) all this apocalyptic doomsday talk is not completely destructive and not helpful.

    • Do you really believe the Pope said that to Biden? It is just as likely as it is that a train conductor who had been retired for 20 years and dead for 10 congratulated Biden on riding 2 million miles on Amtrak. Biden is the most self-serving liar in the history of the US government. Just think for a minute how astonishing that statement is. #1 among all liars in the government. In history.

  4. If only Pope Francis would understand and support Canon Law 915, a just law – God’s law – and not place his own posturing “political” opinion over that which is morally righteous and just.

  5. But, but, butt! The Cardinal has not listened to “different-church” synodality from Germania; nor to the embar-ass-ing Pachamama from Amazonia! Nor to Aztec priestess Pelosi from Americana on the “sacred ground” of late-term abortions; nor to the vote-juggling marionette, Biden, on the two-faced “privacy” of his religion.

    –but, instead, listening to the “silent scream” of only 66,000,000 disenfranchised citizens; and to Pope Francis who says in two words something about “hit men;” and to the single Word made flesh. Nothing in any of this, over the past two millennia, about chandeliered national bishops’ conferences butting in on the sacred and rational responsibilities of individual bishops—each sent personally by Christ as a successor of the apostles.

  6. I’ll be surprised if the USCCB actually does anything substantive even after Cardinal Burke’s obvious but still necessary and useful intervention. Individual bishops are going to have to put their necks on the line, and even that won’t help, because as long as the politicians keep getting re-elected, they don’t give a hoot what the Church says or doesn’t say.

  7. With the mild hubbub over Pres Joe Biden’s allegation of His Holiness’ green light remarks, the wonder is whether America’s Eugenio Scalfari [journalist Scalfari former member Italian chamber of deputies] will be met with similar papal silence. Perhaps a Vat communique that the President projected his own interpretation of Francis’ articulate assessment. Leaving further wonder. Nevertheless, unless there is a repudiation the ambiguity, like the Dubia silence gives credence to the President’s remarks. And as revealed later with the Argentine papal exchange a policy position. Will interested parties request clarification?

    • Fr. Morello;

      President Biden – predictably – claims that in their private conversation the Pope told him that it was ok for him to keep receiving Holy Communion.

      Which begs the obvious question – do you believe him? I most certainly don’t and I don’t think any serious Catholic does.

      • Terence, the pertinent issue is not whether I believe Biden, rather it’s the Pontiff’s responsibility to clarify a major problem in the Church, Eucharistic coherence when the President is alleged to have received the Pontiff’s approbation. If the Pope doesn’t clearly repudiate Biden’s allegation, what effect do you suppose that will have on many Catholics who aren’t sure what to believe?

      • Terence, I do not believe Biden. He is a liar and also has some mental problems we are told. The Pope has made his view on this matter abundantly clear and he does not have to resort to shaming, blaming or whatever.

  8. meh More twisting and turning at the Bishops “Pretzel Factory”.For the Catholic faithful
    to continue to watch the glad handing, and of Pope Francis with Pelosi, Biden/Obama photo OP’s.Pushes ones mind into a place of Christ’s admonition to the woman at the well.
    Has fallen on deaf ears of socialist/democrats for over 50 years.

  9. – Interesting letter that narrates how The Church in Italy as far back as the 1970s , did not physically keep out / kick out those who presented themselves for Communion , in spite of having been supportive of evil choices .

    The Holy Father , The Bishops – they neither desire nor intend for any one to present themselves for false oaths in declaring that they are thankful to The Lord for the graces earend in The Passion , to be in oneness with The Spirit of The Lord and yet reject same , instead conveying the same lie of telling others too , to ‘hire the hit man’ , choose for acts of despair , that they too are incapable of making the right choices .

    There is , in the midst of all this ,the mystery of The Church in dealing with ? the aspect of the good intention that can be like ‘commands’ from the Love for God in hearts , such as what Bl.Mother had , whose pleading in Love with The Holy Trinity is what is said to have briught forth The Incarnation .

    Such an aspect revealed to us in The Divine Will revelations and thank God that there are likely enough good theologians and holy persons , including in Congregations that are dedicated to live in The Divine Will that are involved to help The Church to be guided in the right paths in all these areas .

    God thus to bless the Bishops and the Holy Father striving in the Oneness in The Divine Will – intending that no one in grave sin should grieve The Spirit and negate His desire to sanctify lives .

    The possibilty of using physical force against those who are seen as persisting in sin likely to be an occasion that can do worse damage any more , hence the desire to avoid same , which is charitable .

    May the mightier voices of the souls that plead for sanctification of lives be the good fruit in these laborings in trying to discern as to how to help each other to live in His Holy Will .

  10. Regarding TM’s comments: This is a serious matter. If the pope didn’t say it, then he must say that he didn’t say it. None of this “ it was a private conversation” evasion.

  11. Both Biden and Francis are hypocrits. Biden professes beliefs then contradicts those by his public actions. Francis fails to publicly preach the perennial teaching of the Church, but instead espouses his personal ‘pastoral’ reservations.

    A good vicar of Christ preaches the full teaching of Christ, making known His mercy and His justice. He will preach the salvific methods of repentance and reconciliation as Christ established in His Church.

    To speak as at Pentecost is to speak when the Catholic leader of the free world and the press of much of the world would listen. To speak when few tune in is to whisper to a family friend.

    Biden scandalizes his citizens, and Francis scandalizes the faithful. When Francis speaks of the scandal of hypocrisy, he speaks about himself.

    The dead cannot merit mercy. Those who carry mortal sins in their souls are dead when they die, and justice shall follow. Let us pray for the dead.

  12. Unfortunately, over 50% so called Catholics voted for Harris-Biden. Harris is a Catholic hater, we all know about this. Biden is an abortion supporter, yet professed to be a “good Catholic” THE Bishop here in Washington supports them, and more than likely voted for them. Thank you for putting Harris-Biden in office.

    • Hey Ho Ho, it would have been great if Trump had continued as the President because he did some really good things for the country. But let’s not forget that marriage is the very foundation of society and people like Trump had trivialized, nay, corrupted it. Thus we have so many broken and same-sex marriages now.

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