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WASHINGTON — The American bishop who heads the Vatican’s supreme court slammed President Obama Friday (May 8) for pursuing an “anti-life and anti-family agenda” and called the University of Notre Dame’s plans to honor him this month “the greatest scandal.”
Archbishop Raymond Burke, who led the archdiocese of St. Louis until he was named prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura by Pope Benedict XVI last June, is known as a forceful critic of public figures who support abortion rights and gay marriage.
In 2004, Burke made headlines for threatening to deny Communion to Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who was then the Democratic presidential nominee.
At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Friday, Burke garnered frequent applause for castigating Notre Dame, Obama, and Catholics who stray from the church’s social teachings.
“The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame University to a president who so aggressively advocates an anti-life and anti-family agenda is rightly the source of the greatest scandal,” Burke said.
Dozens of Catholic bishops have criticized Notre Dame, the nation’s top Catholic university, for inviting Obama to deliver its commencement address on May 17, and planning to grant him the degree customarily given to graduation speakers.
Burke also denounced a number of early moves by the White House, including opening federal funding for international family planning groups and research on certain types of embryonic stem cells, as well as preparing to roll back some conscience protections for health care workers.
“With unparalleled arrogance, our nation is choosing to renounce its foundations,” Burke said. “We must open our eyes to the gravity of the situation in our nation lest we fail to take responsibility for the widespread attacks on human life and the family.”
Burke also criticized Catholics who support or work for the Obama administration, particularly new cabinet member Kathleen Sebelius.
“The appointment of a Catholic as secretary of Health and Human Services who has cooperated with the industry of abortion is the deepest embarrassment to Catholics and a painful reminder of the serious responsibility of Catholics to uphold the natural moral law,” he said.
Sebelius did not attend the annual Catholic prayer breakfast, nor did Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, or any Catholic member of Obama’s cabinet.
Mark Linton, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Obama’s liaison to the Catholic community, attended the breakfast on behalf of the administration. Linton and the White House declined to comment on Burke’s remarks.
Former President George W. Bush addressed four of the last five Catholic prayer breakfasts, which started in 2004, and a number of the event’s organizers have backgrounds in GOP politics, leading some liberal Catholics to criticize the breakfast as partisan. Joseph Cella, the event’s founder, said Bush asked to speak to the gathering but Obama would not be given such a platform because he supports abortion rights.
Cella, who is a senior adviser for Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., said Burke’s speech “will have a significant impact for Catholics — both lay and religious — for a number of years.”
James Salt, director of organizing for the liberal-leaning group Catholics United, said the prayer breakfast organizers should “take the Catholic faith a little more seriously.”
“Instead of praying for Catholic concerns like an end to war, torture, global warming and poverty, all they seem to offer is a platform for Republican operatives delivering Republican talking points,” Salt said.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, who gave the keynote speech at the prayer breakfast in 2007, did not attend this year. Burke implicitly criticized Wuerl in a taped interview earlier this year for not denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, a serious breach of church etiquette, according to some Catholics.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also delivered remarks on Friday, and urged fellow Catholics not to be ashamed of their theological beliefs amid a largely secular culture.
Catholics, he said, must have “the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world for these seeming failings of ours.”
By Daniel Burke
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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