Barack Obama. Notre Dame. Abortion. Marriage. Last week, Archbishop Raymond Burke returned to his native United States from Rome to talk about the moral and patriotic responsibilities of the Catholic American in 2009. Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, he addressed hot-button issues directly, and made headlines. But the Vatican official — whose role could be described as “chief justice” of the Catholic Church’s “supreme court” — did more than deliver well-received applause lines on controversial issues; at the core of this shepherd’s address were challenges and instruction to every Catholic within the sound of his voice (and, thanks to the Internet, very many more).
“The most treasured gift which we as citizens of the United States of America can offer to our country is a faithful Catholic life. It is the gift which, even though it has often been misunderstood, has brought great strength to our nation, from the time of its founding. Today more than ever, our nation is in need of Catholics who know their faith deeply and express their faith, with integrity, by their daily living,” Archbishop Burke said.
Using the “hope and change” themes of the current White House administration as an opportunity, Burke said: “The change which brings hope can only be the renewal of our nation in the divine love which respects the inviolable dignity of every human life, from the moment of its inception to the moment of natural death, and which creates and gives growth to new human life through the love of man and woman in marriage. Any hope which is incoherent with the great hope is truly illusory and can never bring forth justice and its fruit, peace, for our nation and world.”
The archbishop focused on the sacraments, and urged prayer for human life and families. The whole speech can be read here.
En route from Washington to the Eternal City, Archbishop Burke took some questions from National Review Online, expanding on some of the themes of his speech Friday, and addressing a new one or two.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Sebelius. Biden. Pelosi. You know the list. Does the archbishop of Washington, D.C., have to do something about these and other politicians who consider themselves Catholic but who support legal abortion?
ARCHBISHOP RAYMOND BURKE: Apart from specified areas of competence that are mine as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, it is not my place to declare what a diocesan bishop should or should not be doing in a particular situation. My purpose in speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast did not include addressing the matter addressed in your question.
LOPEZ: You advise prayer and fasting. But how do we change the hearts and minds of those who may not believe in God or see abortion as a human-rights issue or marriage as in need of saving? ARCHBISHOP BURKE: We change the minds and hearts of those who do not see procured abortion as a violation of the most fundamental human right and who do not see the need to safeguard marriage and the family from same-sex marriage in two ways: first, by the clear and consistent witness of our own respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and for the integrity of marriage; and, second, by communicating widely the truth about the most serious moral implications of establishing the right of parents to destroy the child they have conceived and of redefining the fundamental nature of marriage.
LOPEZ: You seemed to make very clear that Catholic voters collaborated with evil when they voted for Obama. If you’re Catholic and did, do you have to confess this now that Mexico City, embryo-destructive funding, among other things, have happened?
ARCHBISHOP BURKE: If a Catholic knowingly and deliberately votes for a person who is in favor of the most grievous violations of the natural moral law, then he has formally cooperated in a grave evil and must confess his serious sin. Since President Obama clearly announced, during the election campaign, his anti-life and anti-family agenda, a Catholic who knew his agenda regarding, for example, procured abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage, could not have voted for him with a clear conscience.
LOPEZ: Besides fasting and praying, what might you advise a faithful Catholic who is associated with Notre Dame (alums, students, faculty, football fans . . . ) to do in light of their commencement decision?
ARCHBISHOP BURKE: I would advise those who are concerned to make their concerns known, in writing, to Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of Notre Dame University; Bishop John M. D’Arcy, bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese in which Notre Dame University is located, who has the responsibility for attesting to the Catholic identity of the University; and Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the office of the Holy Father which has responsibility in matters concerning Catholic universities.
LOPEZ: On Friday morning, I noticed that the crowd was at its most vocally supportive when you called the Obama commencement situation at Notre Dame an “outrage.” Do you worry that the audience waits for the headline-making applause lines but misses out on the spiritual-works/devotional message?
ARCHBISHOP BURKE: The heart of my message was conversion of life; prayer and participation in the Sacraments; study and reflection; and action. The strong response to my words about Notre Dame University reflect, I believe, the degree to which faithful Catholics are profoundly scandalized by the proposed conferral of an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws upon a highly public figure who is pursuing so aggressively a program of procured abortion and same-sex marriage.
LOPEZ: You’ve been very supportive of “consecrated virgins.” Is this concept important in the church? Does American society — one you say is in “crisis” — need it?
ARCHBISHOP BURKE: The consecrated virgins give a strong witness to the purity and selflessness with which we all should love one another, especially our brothers and sisters who are in most need. The consecrated virgin offers her virginity to Christ for consecration, so that she may give public witness to the love of Christ for all, without boundary and to the end. A society which is growing increasingly secularized needs desperately the life and witness of consecrated virgins who call all their brothers and sisters to love as Christ loves, that is, for the lasting good of all.
LOPEZ: A question inspired by a recent press conference here: What enchants you most about your new job in Rome? Any advice for the new bishop in St. Louis?
ARCHBISHOP BURKE: I am most enchanted by the possibility of serving more directly Pope Benedict XVI, as shepherd of the Church universal, in the administration of justice in the Church. The communication with the Church in every part of the world, which my work involves, is deeply edifying, for it uncovers how Christ alive in the Church continues to announce the message of salvation to all men and women.
It is not my place to give advice to the new archbishop of Saint Louis. I have communicated to Archbishop Robert Carlson my heartfelt congratulations on his appointment and have conveyed to him how grateful I am for the years during which I was able to serve as shepherd of God’s flock in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Saint Louis has historic and deep roots of Catholic faith and practice which — notwithstanding the challenges which any diocese in the United States experiences today — remain vital in the lives of the priests and the faithful. It was a great privilege to serve as archbishop of Saint Louis, and I am proud to have the title of archbishop emeritus.