31 January 2008

Colleen Campbell on Archbishop Burke

Outstanding piece, as usual, by Colleen Campbell, taking the historical view of our beloved Archbishop:

Will history reward Burke for his trouble?


When Archbishop Raymond Burke publicly rebuked Saint Louis University basketball coach and pro-choice Catholic Rick Majerus last week, he must have known what was coming.

The outspoken defender of Catholic teachings against abortion and embryonic stem-cell research has been at it long enough to know the drill: First come the screaming headlines, then the breathless pundit pile-on, followed by the relentless rehashing of past conflicts and finally the tidal wave of anti-clerical online tirades. Meanwhile, the Catholic he admonished becomes a media darling and his plea for support from a fellow Catholic leader — in this case, Saint Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi — is met with stony public silence.

Watching the scenario unfold, one can't help but wonder: Why does Burke bother?

He has Catholic teaching about abortion on his side, of course. The church always has considered the intentional destruction of innocent human life through abortion to be a grave moral evil. The church regards embryo-destructive research and euthanasia the same way. Catholic teaching holds that Catholics cannot support these things and remain in good standing with their church.

But as Burke's critics frequently note, plenty of Catholic bishops parrot this teaching without provoking such ire. They don't make headlines. They don't take on popular politicians or sports figures. And they certainly don't dwell on that sticky church law that forbids Catholics from receiving Communion if they obstinately persist in serious sin.

To do so would be public relations suicide. Every bishop knows it.

Yet Burke and a handful of his peers — including Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, among others — not only proclaim Catholic doctrine but also apply it to Catholics in their midst. Concerned that decades of cultural accommodation have left American Catholics indifferent to the 1.3 million unborn children aborted each year, these bishops prefer the mortification of a media circus to the queasy calm of ignoring injustice.

Their critics say they are unreasonable and out of touch. But history may say otherwise.

Not so long ago, U.S. Catholic bishops saw another group of people treated as disposable property. Although a paper trail of papal decrees condemning the slave trade stretches back to the early 1400s, most American Catholic bishops sat out the pre-Civil War abolition debate. Historians say they feared proclaiming the fullness of Catholic teaching on the subject, lest they jeopardize their precarious position in America and anger Catholics who supported slavery.


Throughout our history, America's story has been one of an expanding circle of concern embracing human beings once dismissed as unworthy of protection. Given that trajectory, it is reasonable to believe that the struggle to guarantee protection for unborn human lives someday may join the abolitionist and civil-rights efforts as defining movements in our history. If and when that day comes, it will be leaders such as Burke, not their accommodationist critics, upon whom history will smile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really don't care what history tells about his Grace. What I want/hope to see is a feast day and the title of Saint before his name!