By Kathleen Gilbert
MUNDELEIN, Illinois, April 12, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Catholic consecrated religious who openly dissent from the authority of Rome and the church's teaching on life are "an absurdity of the most tragic kind" and should cease identifying themselves as Catholic, said Archbishop Raymond Burke, the head of Rome's Apostolic Signatura.
Burke gave the remarks in his keynote address Friday at the Institute for Religious Life’s national meeting at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. The Institute also honored Burke with their Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award at a celebration of the legacy of Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ.
In excerpts of the address published by Thomas Peters of the American Papist blog, Burke took a moment to express his exasperation with the defiance of Catholic religious sisters in the U.S. who supported the federal health care bill - a measure dubbed the most pro-abortion piece of legislation since Roe v. Wade, thanks to its vast expansion of government abortion funding.
"Who could imagine that consecrated religious would openly, and in defiance of the bishops as successors of the apostles, publicly endorse legislation containing provisions which violated the natural moral law in its most fundamental tenets – the safeguarding and promoting of innocence and defenseless life, and fail to safeguard the demands of the free exercise of conscience for health care workers?" Burke questioned.
The Vatican official also severely criticized "public and obstinate betrayal of religious life by certain religious" towards Rome's ongoing apostolic visitation into U.S. religious orders.
After the visitation began last spring, Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary said in remarks published on the National Catholic Reporter that nuns should receive representatives of Rome "politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house."
"Who ever could have imagined that religious congregations of pontifical right, would openly organize to resist and attempt to frustrate an apostolic visitation, that is, a visit to their congregations carried out under the authority of the vicar of Christ on earth, to whom all religious are bound by the strongest bonds of loyalty and obedience?" he asked.
Abp. Burke indicated that the attitude of sisters towards the visitation represents "a growing tendency among certain consecrated religious to view themselves outside and above the body of Christ as a parallel institution looking in upon the Church with an autonomy which contradicts their very nature."
"Religious life lived in the heart of the Church, and for that reason religious congregations are, by their very nature, bound in strictest loyalty to the Roman Pontiff," he said. "It is of course an absurdity of the most tragic kind to have consecrated religious knowingly and obstinately acting against the moral law.
"The spiritual harm done to the individual religious who are disobedient and also the grave scandal caused to the faithful and people in general are of incalculable dimensions."
Burke also directly challenged Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, as well as Network, a pro-abortion lobby group of U.S. nuns, whose support for the bill the Obama administration openly acknowledged as critical to its success.
"Was not the Speaker of the House [Nancy Pelosi] glowing to report that so many religious sisters were in support of her proposed health care plan?" he asked. "Was not a religious sister [Sr. Carol Keehan, President of CHA] one of the recipients of a pen used by the President of the United States to sign the health care plan into law?
"Now is the time for us all, and in particular for consecrated persons to stand up for the truth and to call upon our fellow Catholics in leadership to do the same, or to cease identifying themselves as Catholics."