Liberal Catholicism’s Collateral Damage

May 30, 2008

It seems we are witnessing the last gasps of hot air from an aging and tiresome movement within the Catholic Church. As a recent Time magazine article discusses whether liberal Catholicism is dead, the more compelling question is, “what has been the collateral damage from this noxious and obnoxious movement over the past 40+ years?”

In a highly exaggerated effort to be set “free” (thus the word, “liberal”) from a perceived oppressive structure (Mother Church), we have been hijacked, instead, by particular charismatic personalities who are often at odds with the authoritative teaching of the Church. In an effort to be attuned to current events, let’s just call this “the Fr. Pfleger syndrome.”

In a revolt against orthodoxy and more fundamental approaches to faith and religion, liberalism proclaimed these to be “antiquated” (a much over-used term by liberal elites), and that, in the modern world, a ”contemporary,” enlightened view of God and man is the only viable stance.

Pope Benedict XVI has been writing on this hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture between our past (prior to 1965) and the Church of today, as he attempts to teach us into desiring a continuity with the rich treasury of our entire 2000 year history, rather than disposing of virtually everything prior to Vatican II.

We saw that, with this rupture, out went the scholastic approach to learning one’s faith, and in came cut-out Jesus and paper mache sheep and ONLY talk of “Jesus loves me this I know …”. I’m waiting for some uninhibited child to someday say, “Okay. okay he loves me … I get it … so what else?”

Recently, I was speaking with two young men, both in their twenties and both the product of K-12 religious education. In the course of the conversation I mentioned Vatican II. Both young men stopped me to ask, “Vatican what?” Neither had ever heard the term before. Of course neither one practices their faith as they have long since wondered why the “need” for such a thing.

What is more scary than this is when we discover that public figures who are Catholic, and are legislating on behalf of our unborn, do not seem to have even a base knowledge of the Church and what she teaches. This was the frightening, yet revealing, statement by Senator John Kerry as he was running for President in 2004:

“My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am. And it is separate. Our Constitution separates church and state, and they should be reminded of that.”

First, there is no such Pope as Pius XXIII and, second, “in the Vatican II?” Who doesn’t come away from this KNOWING that Senator Kerry is basing his understanding of his faith on what he’s “heard” at cocktail parties and the like, rather than any real study on what the Church ACTUALLY teaches.  And, in cases such as contraception, don’t we already know that the vast majority of our contracepting Catholics are working off of the same limited hear-say research?

Furthermore, from this “cocktail party research” comes some of the most venomous outrage and dissent toward Mother Church and her teachings. In the meantime, bishops and priests who are brave enough to attempt to deprogram 40+ years of this “cocktail party theology” indoctrination, are treated as out-of-step, out-of-touch and archaic.

And, of course, we have our obnoxious, self-aggrandizing university elites who, having received no more than this “cocktail party” level of theological studies, are convincing our children that we are living in a post-Christian era, and to dispose of all those antiquated and stifling rules. And we wonder why this next generation has been pegged as the “hook-up generation?”

Fortunately, there is a palpable undercurrent of growing concern and even irritation with this type of kitch religion which, as one person put it, has diminished us into a “vacuous, no-demand, no-standards, no-requirements, no-guilt, do-good enterprise of sloppy sentimentality.”

In fact, “a study released in September 2002, indicates that the membership loss may be tied to dissatisfaction with the mainline’s drift into religious liberalism. Entitled ‘Religious Congregations and Membership 2000,’ the study of 149 denominations was sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The research showed that conservative denominations which held to traditional, orthodox doctrine, and which expected a high level of commitment from members, grew at a faster rate than liberal, mainline churches.”

In the article, Mark Tooley states,

“Churches that allow themselves to be defined by the secular culture’s definition of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘tolerance’ really have little to offer that will change hearts or inspire great loyalty, much less create membership growth.”

He added,

“Liberal theology, with its de-emphasis on traditional Christian belief in favor of social activism, is committing demographic suicide. The future of Christianity belongs to robust orthodoxy, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.”

As many have attempted to analyze the data of this important study, there are differing opinions. Personally, I believe this shows less about a shift from liberal churches to conservative ones, and reveals more about how the kitschy, kumbaya and Kasual (to keep the literation) form of religion is self-defeating because it is falling under the weight of its own irrelevance.

I agree with Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand who wrote, in her article, The Secular War on the Supernatural:

“Now let us abolish the terms “conservative” or “liberal”, the terms “left” and “right” which are secularistic. I suggest that we say from now on “those who have kept the sense of the supernatural and those who have lost it”. That is the great divide, that is the essence.

Do you look at the Church and her teaching, whether dogmatic or moral, with a supernatural eye, or do you look at it with secular lenses? That is the divide. Left and right confuses the issue. Let us re-discover the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural and I claim that it is so difficult in the polluted world in which we live, that if we don’t pray for it every single day, we are going to be infected. It is the air that you breathe, the newspaper that you read, the television show that you see, time and again you will see this is a fight and attack on the supernatural.”

Consider the perpetual chant of our liberal friends, in referring to the Church established by Christ: “It is a man-made institution!” And liberal Catholics practice their faith as though this was true.

Liberal Catholicism seems to be dying because it tries to sustain life in the desert of a vapid and prosaic “activist organization” rather than leading it’s members to the “Tabernacle of Meeting” to kneel before the Ark of the Covenant as that Shekinah glory falls on them. In other words, our spiritual leaders need to be spiritual leaders and, primarily, lead their members to that “encounter with the Risen Lord in a life-changing way.” 

For us, as Catholics (and hopefully all of Christendom someday), this means to draw our people to a deeper love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This is a supernatural encounter, therefore every effort must be made, in preparing and celebrating our liturgies, to help our people to become open to this “sacred and sublime” encounter with our Eucharistic Lord and Savior. Without this encounter, we remain stuck in that profane and casual, cruise ship Christianity, which always leaves us empty.

Therefore, the most egregious offense of these past 40+ years of stifling liberalism has been the shift from a sublime Worship of God at the Holy Mass — in the holy of holies — to a profane celebration of ourselves — in our now gutted out churches transformed into all-purpose lecture halls.

Once our worship experiences become about us rather than God, we see why, if they are not entertaining enough, some might say, “I didn’t get anything out of it” — as if that was the reason for coming!

Moreover, if the sermon challenges in anyway, we see why some might complain that their faith is not being “nurtured” — as if Christ said, “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, they must find themselves, take up their zinc oxide and deck chair, and follow me.”

Pope John Paul II died only a few months short of the 40th anniversary of the close of Vatican II. We thank God for this mercy pope who had been our Moses for most of those 40 years who, like Moses, took a gradualist approach with his rebellious flock, keeping us from schism. All the while Pope John Paul II taught his children as he appointed many strong bishops.

From a Catholic Answers article:

“These [excellent young bishops who are zealous and courageous exponents of the faith], along with the many renewal movements, are beginning to reorient the Church toward a more authentic expression of the Catholic faith. Dissent and heterodoxy are being recognized as the dead ends that they are; their proponents are aging, and they are not attracting new adherents. In time, they will likely wither. While the struggle is by no means over, I think we can say that the tide is beginning to turn: As the dissenters fade away and diminish in influence, they are being replaced by younger, wholeheartedly Catholic bishops, priests, and laypeople who will set the direction for the next generation. In this respect, a wise saying commends itself: Many times, the solution to the Church’s problems is found in the funeral rite.”

Now we see Pope Benedict XVI as our Joshua as he, boldy (in spite of the giants of secularism and modernism), leads us into the Promised Land.

There is great hope that we are returning from our 40 year wandering and aimless exile in the Land of Nod (the consequence of our disobedience) and finding our way back to the Garden of Eden, in sweet surrender, enjoying the Presence of Our Lord for all days.


Getting Past Clericalism

May 29, 2008

So many strong foot soldiers helping lead the way in giving us a language that brings to the surface many of our 40+ year frustrations. Mark Shea hits the ball out of the park once again:

At the altar, the priest presides. In the world, the laity preside. This is the basic principle that ought to govern all our thinking about the roles of the ordained and the laity in the mission of the Church.
Unfortunately, a huge number of Catholics don’t think this way, because clericalism continues to poison and distort the way we think. Paul tells us that Christ has given the Church different offices: “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Paul makes constant recourse to the analogy of the body and of different members performing their respective roles so as to strengthen the whole.
When we forget that wisdom, we get clericalism — the notion that the only real Catholic is an ordained Catholic — and the concomitant idea that the only way a layperson can find a vocation is to hurl the pews at the ambo and seize the Church “for his own.” Hence, organizations like “We Are Church” with the sotto voce suggestion that “They” are not Church.
With that comes all sorts of mischief: a confusion between the sanctity of the priestly office and the sanctity of the person who holds it; a conviction that it’s all about power, not love and service; a notion that the only true forum for our gifts as laity is to somehow lug them into the liturgy; a demand for “equal access” to a sacrament that is a gift, not a civil right; and many other evils.
Many people have the mistaken notion that clericalism is a peculiarly “conservative” phenomenon and that, if you are what is known as a “liberal” Catholic, you are immune from the problem because you are “democratic.” Yes, there have been conservative Catholics I’ve known whose first rule in life is to never think ill of a priest even when trouble is staring them in the face. But the notion that clericalism is strictly a defect of the Right Wing Authoritarian Personality, so beloved as a bogeyman by Call to Action types, is rubbish.
In my experience, it hasn’t been “blind obedience to Catholic authority” but blind obedience to a particular charismatic personality (who is often at odds with the authoritative teaching of the Church) that is the trouble. Typically, what I’ve seen have been Catholics who like Father Personality so much that they just can’t stand those killjoys who insist on pointing out that Father Personality is preaching rank heresy or living gross immorality (or both). I wish more Catholics were docile to genuine Catholic Authority. They might find the stones to appeal to it against the force of some charming pervert or heretic that they really like.
Indeed, some of the toughest and most dedicated real reformers in the Church that I’ve known — fearless moms who aren’t afraid to march into the bishop’s office and respectfully but firmly give him hell when he’s a doofus — have been conservative Catholics who are docile to true authority and therefore not craven before mere personalities. For “authority” is not, as most suppose, “raw power to dictate.” It is related rather to “authorship”: the right of the writer to say what his work means. The author of the Catholic Faith is Jesus Christ, and the teaching and tradition of the Church is the way we know what the Author has to say. Oddly, most lay Catholics aren’t interested in that. They’re interested in what Their Local Personality has to say.
Very often, that local personality is a clericalist. It may not be the priest. It may be the DRE who is embittered because he or she will never be ordained and so is determined to create a personal fiefdom right there in the parish. (Some of the most draconian, micromanaging tyrants I have ever known were DREs who simultaneously held the pope in utter contempt, claimed to champion “freedom of conscience,” and yet ruled their own serfs and slaves in the parish with an iron fist of control more monarchical than anything Innocent III or Hildebrand ever dreamed of.)
Dittos, of course, with the experience of countless advocates of liturgical experimentation, women’s ordination, Voice of the Fuddled political enthusiasms, and so forth. They have deeply bought into the notion that the Church is all about power, that they must be the ones to control that power, and that power happens exclusively in the sanctuary. The notion that 99.9 percent of the Church is lay so that the work of the Church could be conducted in the world has not entered their heads. They want to preside at the altar because the altar is, they believe, the only legitimate place a Catholic can preside.
The way to heal this, I think, is for the Church to really take up the task of teaching an authentic Catholic understanding of the lay office as a real vocation. Sherry Weddell of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute points out that our present conception of vocation is pretty much limited to the ordained and religious life. That is, after all, what we mean by “prayer for vocations.” She remarks that this is a “bonsai gardening” approach to vocation. We focus all our attention on the handful of guys out of each diocese who might be called to the priesthood, and we pay virtually no attention to the overwhelming number of Catholics who are called to be laypeople.
Called. We laity have a vocation. In fact, we have as many vocations as there are laypeople. We have a mission in the world, and we must be equipped to carry out that mission just as much as the priest or religious must be equipped to carry out his or her mission. Weddell suggests we treat the parish as a “house of lay formation,” not so that we laypeople can storm the altar and do the work of the priest for him, but so that we can do our proper work of assisting as he presides in the sanctuary, and presiding as we take up our proper work in the world as lay apostles of Christ. Do that, and we end the bonsai-gardening approach and instead will take up the much more fruitful wildflower-gardening approach, where all vocations are nurtured — including priestly and religious vocations.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose (1 Cor 12:14-18).
Time to get back to the biblical (and Catholic) approach.

Mark P. Shea is a senior editor at and a columnist for Visit his blog at

Second Chants

May 25, 2008

Is chant making a comeback? Some seem to think so, and this item in the Dallas Morning News, from the Religion News Service, adds up the evidence:

It doesn’t have much of a beat, the kids can’t dance to it, and it’s sung in a dead language. But Gregorian chant seems to be the hottest thing in sacred music right now.

Consider the following:

• The wildly popular “Halo” videogames use Gregorian chant (sometimes called plainsong) as background music.

• Universal Music Group, the record company best known for bawdy acts like Amy Winehouse and Snoop Dogg, recently signed a group of Viennese monks to record an album of Gregorian chant.

• The Middle Ages chants can even greatly reduce stress, British researchers reported this month.

After a public relations push by Pope Benedict XVI, who wants Gregorian chant restored to its “pride of place” in the liturgy, plainsong’s popularity is percolating among U.S. Catholics.

Nearly 200 scholas – choirs that sing plainsong – have popped up around the country, many in the last five years, according to the Church Music Association of America.

Sacred music seminars that once drew 40 to 50 people now lure hundreds of Catholic musical directors, organists and singers. And priests-in-training in seminaries across the country are increasingly asking to be educated in the intricacies of Gregorian chant, said association president and sacred-song expert William Mahrt.

Meanwhile, religious publishers are stocking – and selling – large collections of plainsong books and music. One such publisher, Paraclete Press of Brewster, Mass., has sold more copies of its Gregorian Melodies CDs in the first five months of 2008 – 5,000 – than it did all of last year.

The style of chant is named for the sainted Pope Gregory I (circa A.D. 540-604) in what was probably an early exercise in brand marketing. Musicologists say the pope most likely didn’t invent plainsong, but his name was used to help it spread from monastery to monastery in medieval Europe.

Written records of Gregorian chant date to the 10th century, but many Catholic experts say it was probably transmitted orally for several centuries before it was notated.

Over the years, plainsongs’ unadorned melodies, sung in Latin to an uneven meter and somehow suggestive of high religiosity, became a staple of Hollywood soundtracks, if not always Catholic churches. A 1994 album Chant by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos caught the public’s imagination and became a big seller.

Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of the magazine Sacred Music, said chant strikes many people as “spooky, ominous and meaningful in some way.”

“It has an inner pulse like a heartbeat, but it doesn’t have a regular rhythm,” said Mr. Tucker, a plainsong proponent.

“The effect is like musical incense. It’s always sort of floating and rising.”

Chants’ seemingly timeless melodies and Latin lyrics also connect Catholics throughout centuries and space, Mr. Tucker and others said.

But after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which allowed Mass in local languages, Gregorian chant fell out of favor in U.S. parishes. In came guitars and tambourines, out went plainsong.

Thomas Day, a professor of music and author of the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing, said Gregorian chant became too ponderous and funereal for Catholics then accustomed to John Denver and the Carpenters. It was so slow, in fact, that it was conducted with a large stick used to pound time on the church floor, he said.

But Mr. Day, a professor at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., and others say the folksy music that replaced plainsong hasn’t aged well and leaves many Catholics wanting. Catholics in their 20s and 30s are looking for something else.

“It is now two generations since ‘folk music’ was introduced into the liturgy,” said Mr. Mahrt. “Much of that music is ephemeral, and it has run its course; it is time for a change.”

Daniel Burke,

Religion News Service

Archbishop Burke’s efforts lead to biggest Catholic ordination class in decades

May 20, 2008

“It wasn’t smooth sailing, there were some good days and bad days when I was in the seminary, just like anything else. I was a sophmore year in college when the abuse hit the media. I remember being so angy at that and wondering where do we go from here?” said Deacon Edward Nemeth.


Once or twice a year, each student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will drop by Archbishop Raymond Burke’s residence in the Central West End at 4:30 p.m. From there, they set off down Lindell Avenue and into Forest Park..

“The walks,” as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for young men to have heart-to-hearts with a man who regularly meets with the pope, a heady prospect for a young priest-in-training. The conversations are usually casual, and the seminarians get to see a more personal, human side of Burke — like when he gets a little skittish around off-leash dogs.

Kenrick officials organize the walks using time sheets. When the sheets are posted, there’s a rush to sign on.

“It’s like when you throw pellets at the Japanese fish at the Botanical Gardens,” said seminarian Edward Nemeth, 26. “Guys falling over each other to get their names on the list.”

On Saturday, Nemeth and eight of his colleagues at Kenrick will be ordained as priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese — the largest St. Louis ordination class in 25 years and one of the largest in the U.S. It’s also the same number of ordinations in St. Louis as the last three years combined.

Since the 1980s, declining interest in the priesthood has been a growing crisis for the Roman Catholic church in the U.S., a situation that was compounded by the clergy sex-abuse scandal earlier this decade. One church study suggested that 80 percent of parents whose sons are considering the priesthood try to dissuade them, fearing their child is entering a life of loneliness and unhappiness.

Burke is credited for helping to address such concerns at Kenrick. He is active in recruiting priests and knows the seminarians — their names, their life stories, their joys and their fears. He’s also a frequent visitor to the seminary, sometimes dropping by unannounced for lunch with the students.

“He’s the center and the core of this whole thing,” said the Rev. Michael Butler, the vocations director for the archdiocese.

The student body at Kenrick-Glennon, which includes the undergraduate Cardinal Glennon College and graduate-level Kenrick Theological Seminary, is 112 students, the largest enrollment in two decades and a 50 percent increase over last year.

Monsignor Ted Wojcicki, Kenrick-Glennon’s president, said he hopes to enroll 120 students next year, which would double the size of the seminary population from a decade ago. Last year, the archdiocese announced plans to expand the seminary.

The archdiocese officially attributes its recent success with vocations — Latin for vocare, which means, to call — to a higher power. More men are hearing God’s call to the priesthood, they say. But God has had a hand from Burke, who decided vocations would be a high priority since he arrived in St. Louis in 2004.

“A bishop’s principal responsibility is to provide priests for the people in his pastoral care,” Burke said in an interview last week from Rome. “Ordinations have to be absolutely right at the top of my priorities.”

During a Vatican meeting just months before his death in 2004, Pope John Paul II told Burke and other Midwest bishops to do more to increase the number of men training for the priesthood.

“No one can deny that the decline in priestly vocations represents a stark challenge for the church in the United States,” the pope told the bishops.

John Paul was not exaggerating. The number of diocesan priests in the U.S. has declined 22 percent since 1965, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In the same period, the number of graduate level seminarians has fallen 60 percent.

In 2005, the St. Louis Archdiocese estimated that by the end of 2008 it would have only 230 active diocesan priests, down from 313. The number has decreased, but not as precipitously as predicted three years ago and stands at 286.

At Kenrick, it’s not just Burke’s involvement that is cited for the turnaround in enrollment. The archbishop’s conservatism, too, is an appealing aspect to young seminarians.

“The people who are attracted to the priesthood today tend to be much more conservative than their peers,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington. “Even in the 1950s, the people attracted to seminaries were more conservative than their peers, but not to the degree they are today.”

Seminarians say Burke’s conservatism helps him connect with them. The seminarians openly discuss how they see Burke as a spiritual father and embrace the traditional atmosphere Burke has championed in the archdiocese and the seminary.

Burke, for example, is considered one of the most devoted supporters of the old Latin Mass among U.S. bishops, and last year, Kenrick began celebrating the traditional liturgy on Fridays. More formal vestments are now required at morning and evening prayers. Burke said such “little things” help him “encourage a strong identity among the seminarians, especially with the celebration of the sacred liturgy.”

Noah Waldman, 39, a former architect, was studying with a traditionalist group of priests a number of years ago. Eventually, he felt called to be a diocesan priest rather than part of an order. The problem, he thought, was that most bishops would think he was too conservative.

“I was told there were two bishops in the U.S. who would be interested in me,” he said.

Burke, at that time the bishop of La Crosse, Wis., took Waldman in. The architect entered the seminary but decided Wisconsin was not a good fit and applied to a philosophy program in England. Burke “told me I was making a big mistake,” Waldman recalled.

After the death of Pope John Paul II, Waldman decided the priesthood was indeed his calling, and Burke, since installed in St. Louis, invited Waldman to Kenrick. “Because of his support, I was able to make it through,” said Waldman, who will be ordained on Saturday.

Burke, however, plays down the notion that he’s the main attraction. “More traditionalist men have come on their own; it’s not that I’ve gone out to look for them,” he said. “When men say they feel very confident in my leadership, I tell them that they have to come to the archdiocese of St. Louis because they’re devoted to the archdiocese, not me.”

Michael Houser, 26, began considering the priesthood when he was 13. He is the oldest of 10 children born to parents in Chesterfield who took their children to Mass every Sunday and prayed the rosary together as a family every night.

The Housers were part of a lay group tied to the conservative Legion of Christ congregation of priests. Houser attended elementary school at Gateway Academy, run by the Legion of Christ in Chesterfield, then attended the Legion’s seminary high school in New Hampshire.

Houser decided the life of a diocesan priest fit him best. “It appealed to me a lot to be able to have a connection to a particular diocese — there’s more stability in diocesan priesthood,” Houser said. “When Archbishop Burke came to St. Louis, I was in my first year (at seminary), and he was a real godsend to me.”

Butler, the head of the archdiocese’s vocations office, said he doesn’t like to think of the call to the priesthood in terms of numbers, but the future of the archdiocese necessitates it. Based on priests’ rate of retiring and advancing age, the archdiocese needs to ordain about 10 to 12 men each year, Butler said.

To reach that goal, Butler said, the archdiocese needs to bring in 20 to 24 men each year. That’s about double the current level. Next year, the seminary expects a more typical ordination class of five, though with larger entering classes, the days of five-member ordination ceremonies might be a thing of the past.

Nemeth remembered when Burke first got to St. Louis, the archbishop promised to make the seminary the heart of the diocese. Nemeth believes Burke has made good on that promise, and in doing so, has become “like a father” to the seminarians.

Nemeth said his most difficult moment at Kenrick-Glennon was when he was a college sophomore during the clergy sexual abuse crisis that emerged in 2002. “I remember being so angry at priests,” Nemeth said. “Anywhere I went I felt like I was under a microscope with people thinking, ‘Is he one of them?'”

Strength, Nemeth said, came from watching Burke deal with controversy in the succeeding years, an example the archbishop continues to set for future seminarians.

“He stands for truth when he knows that’s not going to be easy,” Nemeth said, “so we know he’ll support us when we have to do the same.”

Silence Among the Lambs

May 20, 2008

Archbishop Burke: Bishops Must Discipline Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians

Calls his brother bishops to task – “To remain silent is to permit serious confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law” 

By Hilary White
Archbishop Raymond L. BurkeST. LOUIS, September 11, 2007 ( – Writing in the latest edition of the Canon Law journal, Periodica De Re Canonica, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, bishop of St. Louis, Missouri, has called his brother bishops to task for their silence on the problem of Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryo research, the homosexual political agenda or other legislation “contrary to the natural moral law.”
Burke’s lengthy article addresses the scandal during the 2004 presidential election campaign when Senator John Kerry insisted that he could be militantly pro-abortion, ignore “Vatican” teachings on the sanctity of human life and marriage, and remain a good Catholic and a good Catholic politician.
During the 2004 election campaign, the scandal became so acute that the US bishops met in Denver to decide how to handle those Catholics in public life who persisted in flouting Catholic teaching. The statement produced from this meeting addressed the issue of refusing Communion by saying only that “bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action.”
Burke criticises this, saying the statement “failed to take account of the clear requirement to exclude from Holy Communion those who, after appropriate admonition, obstinately persist in supporting publicly legislation which is contrary to the natural moral law.”
In the piece, Burke particularly takes aim at his brother bishops who felt no pressing need to observe the Church’s canonical strictures, saying, “To remain silent is to permit serious confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law. Confusion, of course, is one of the most insidious fruits of scandalous behavior…” Pro-life advocates have long identified the lack of leadership on the part of church leaders as the biggest obstacle to re-instituting legal protections for the unborn.
At the height of the scandal, while still bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Burke was the only bishop out of 195 US dioceses to issue a formal, or “canonical”, ban on pro-abortion and other dissenting politicians from receiving Communion. For this distinction, Burke has been compared with the 16th century English Bishop John Fisher who, alone among the English bishops, refused to ratify King Henry VIII’s claim to be the head of the Church of England and was executed at the Tower of London and later canonized.
The article further highlights the vast and growing divide in the Catholic Church between self-styled “progressives” who have, since the 1960’s, gained ascendancy in most Catholic institutions, and those who continue to hold and defend the Church’s teachings, especially those on the sanctity of life. The gulf was perhaps well illustrated by an announcement by then-archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who, as the Kerry scandal was growing, said that although he is personally opposed to pro-abortion politicians receiving communion, he would not be “comfortable” refusing them.
McCarrick was appointed to head a task force for the bishops “studying” the problem. It was later revealed that at the Denver meeting later that summer, McCarrick withheld a crucial portion of an instruction from then-Cardinal Ratzinger that pro-abortion politicians “must” be refused Communion.
Ratzinger, echoing the calls of faithful Catholics calling for an end to the scandal, cited the Catholic Church’s Canon Law number 915 that 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.”


May 20, 2008

A hopeful look at the “atheism fad” running it’s course while finding only fading support among the MEGA-EGOS of our times … the usual suspects: Hollywood, media elites and the prestige-craving academia. Mark Shea is one of my favorite writers, and here he writes for Inside Catholic:

 Item: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. For the utterly confused atheist in your life, here’s another testament to the fact that atheism can’t stand to be in the same room with itself for too long. Here, the author tries to crib a little bit of consolation from the theistic tradition while hoping nobody will notice there’s no point in talking about “spirituality” when your whole system is predicated on the denial of spirits.

Item: Lent 2008 in the Netherlands found itself re-branded as “Christian Ramadan.” It seems the thoroughly de-Christianized young people there are more likely to know about Islam than Christianity. So the vacuum is filled by the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings.
Item: Chattering classes go for shamanism. What’s not to like? It’s not as nihilistic as atheism, but not as demanding as Christ with all that “take up your cross” stuff. Kira Salak, the scion of parents she describes as “fundamentalist atheists,” regales her readers with her ayahuasca-brew adventures in the spirit world:
To prepare the brew, apprentices spend years under the tutelage of an elder shaman getting to know the different plant ingredients, passing weeks or months at a time learning their individual healing properties and governing spirits. These beings, they claim, teach them icaros, or spirit songs, which, when sung or whistled, call forth the plants’ unique assistance during ceremonies.

As you read Salak’s curiously mixed-up language attempting to cling to Western materialist rationalism while simultaneously giving a sympathetic and quasi-believing ear to talk about “spirit beings,” it’s hard to avoid hearing one spirit being in particular, C. S. Lewis’s Uncle Screwtape, who told Wormwood 60 years ago:
I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us (though not under that name), will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force,” the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” — then the end of the war will be in sight.

Thanks to the double whammy of radical Islam and the priest scandals, we have been in the middle of an atheist fashion among our elites for the past few years. The Blue State secularists have been enthusiastically publishing and reading the New Atheists, whose pop trash is for atheists sort of what theology drivel like Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn is for Christians: not great, but easily available.
Their trendiness leads to fifth-tier knockoffs trying to cash in. So, for example, you get twaddle like some mathematician claiming special competence to disprove the existence of God, but quickly showing himself to only be familiar with Ann Coulter, dog farts, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Such fads very quickly become an endless recycling of the same old sermons to the choir, since the only thing that keeps atheism on life support once the frisson of blasphemy wears off is lingering anger over 9/11 and the now-fading notion that “religion in general,” not “radical Islam,” is what piloted those planes.
But at the end of the day, the New Atheists have little to say beyond “I won’t believe!” So our culture starts to look at its watch and eye the exit. Endless sermons from a parade of atheists start to feel uncomfortably reminiscent of Reverend Polyester Sport Coat’s Hallelujah Bible Church of NASCAR. Only the subject matter has (slightly) changed. The utterly inhuman triumph of zeal for The System over the human person has not.
So people subjected to rigorously godless fashions migrate back toward “spirituality,” thereby proving my long-held contention that a fad for atheism is the brief pause between exhaling biblical faith and inhaling Something Else. Atheism can’t hold the attention of fashion long, because most people don’t have sufficient resources of naked pride to keep up the fiction that they enjoy their nihilism. A few souls can revel in shaking their fists at heaven in some sort of Byronic egoism, but Thoreau is right: The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, and when life gets tough they want to grab on to something bigger than their sneering sense of superiority over the weak.
Humans are incorrigibly religious. They are not, however, incorrigibly Christian. So Christians may sigh with relief as the fad for atheism wanes. But we must not give up being wise as serpents nor innocent as doves, and we especially must not slacken in our duty to bear witness to Christ.
Atheistic societies tend to be extremely bloody ones, it’s true. So a step toward theism is better than nothing, and the waning atheist fad is cause for a small celebration. But do remember that nobody involved in the Crucifixion, the persecution of the apostles, and the ancient pagan persecutions of the Church was an atheist. A culture that turns from being strictly materialistic to being a culture of Materialist Magicians is not a culture that is automatically re-Christianizing. Such a turn may be a first step toward Christ, but it can just as easily be a first step toward Moloch. For a materialist who comes to worship the reality of “spirit” is not necessarily worshipping the Lord our God, and Him only. In the words of Lewis’s Ransom, “There’s nothing specially fine about being a Spirit. The Devil is a Spirit.”

Mark P. Shea is a senior editor at and a columnist for Visit his blog at