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