Dropping a bomb on his way out: Archbishop Burke and the case of Sister Louise

Louise Lears.gifIf nothing else, the recently promoted (some would say “kicked upstairs) former archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Leo Burke, at least has a sense of timing. Just before he was named to St. Louis in late 2003, then-Bishop Burke of LaCrosse, WI, barred popular Democratic congressman David Obey and another pro-choice Catholic legislator from receiving communion, thus leaving his successor with a fait accompli and a pastoral black eye. Now it turns out that days before the Vatican called Burke to Rome to head the church’s equivalent of a Supreme Court–though with much less influence and visibility, save for the red cardinal’s hat that would give him a ticket to the next conclave–Burke put the hammer down on a popular St. Louis nun. The archbishop barred Sister of Charity Louis Lears from any ministerial role OR receiving any sacraments in the archdiocese because of her support for women’s ordination.
From an excellent profile of Lears by Tom Fox in the National Catholic Reporter:


Jerry King, a member of the parish and member of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis in Saint Louis, an organization he and Lears belong to, found irony in the Burke censure. “Louise was not spoiling for a fight; she really did not want a fight; she wanted resolution.” He said she just wanted to be a pastor – “and has been very good at it, very active in her commitments” to the parish, which he described as a “last stop” for people disaffected from the church.

Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke.jpgAlso required reading is the statement from the St. Louis archdiocese and a site with the relevant decrees.
In the post below I wrote about a Revolutionary War Baptist woman who was excommunicated for fighting for the nation’s freedom. Perhaps it will take as long for Catholics to appreciate the struggle of Louis Lears and others. But can the church afford to wait that long?

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posted July 5, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Based on what I’m reading elsewhere, I think the penalty was for actually performing an ordination ceremony, as opposed to just “supporting” ordination of women. Two sort of different things, in my opinion.

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Bob Nunz

posted July 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

No matter what “support” meant, Burke’s style will continue to be seen as abrasive and arrogant, continuing to divide instead of trying to bring folks together.The many valuable contributions of the good sister are just thrown on the garbage pile -how Christ like of the Bishop!
The Bishop Robinson story, in which the question of woman’s ordination is seen as one of the many examples of “creeping infallibility” and has resonance with a number of faithful Catholics on this issue underscore how divided we are, how folks will continue to do what they see as just and not be cowed by authoritarian actions,
The pressing issue of Eucharist, of course, not just the issue of the “equal” status of women in the Church is at stake here.
Rome won’t “allow” mandatory celibacy (except for converts), in the Western Rite, on the table and priestly numbers decline, parishes close and/or are merghed and people are supposed to just accept what comes from on high.
If it’s backed up by the kinds of actions Burke imposes. some will drift, some will continue to soldier on but with diminishing (further) respect for hierarchical leadership.

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John Feltman

posted July 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm

It seems that the hierarchy of the Catholic church has been remiss in following the sacred Majesterium concerning church doctrine predicated on the word of God as commanded by Jesus to his apostles. Canon Law,for example is quite specific as to the penalties of violating these doctrines,but vague as to when an act or opinion, that is contrary to these doctrines,meets the threshold of heresy and Latae Sententiae (automatic excommunication). Canon 1329,for example,cites Catholics who advocate or support abortion through political actions or other activist deeds or opinions (including knowingly voting for political candidates who are pro-choice or have voted in favor of late-term abortion etc.) as accomplices and heretics. Yet,millions of Catholics will be voting for such candidates in the next election because they are either ignorant of their obligations, as Catholics under Canon Law, or they just do not believe that Canon Law has any place in politics. It is my belief that millions of Catholics are in violation of church doctrine because the Church has not effectectively carried out its mission of educating the faithful as to their obligations to the word of God and the Church’s doctrines interpreted from His word. It is my belief that the secular degeneration now evident in this nation is directly related to the miscommunication that exists between the Catholic church and the faithful.
And the Catholic Church is not alone in this failing,all of those who call themselves Christians should realize that their rights and beliefs are being severely diminished because they have supported the actions and deeds of minority secular groups that are not only anti-Christ in their ideology but seek to remove His name from those things that bear witness to our belief in Him.

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sandra kessler

posted July 6, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Lord knows why this has to go on and on. Years ago when the Catholic church had is Synodal Process I took part in the groups at two churches in Ottawa. In fact, I wrote the report to the Archbishop which he took to Rome for the large “grand finale” I do not know why it is that the Catholic Church can’t “gets its head around” the reality of the need for more ordained in the church and why on earth they don’t get with the program and let women be ordained. How arcane can they be in this day and age when women end up doing a lot of the “unsung” work and for what – to be dictated to by celabate men. Get real!!!!!
There are cells of “enlightened ” women and men who have a more advanced approach to faith and it will not matter what the Pope says. That this has gone in the public eye will probably generate a lot of comment from real people who know what faith really implies.

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Sally Rogers

posted July 6, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Wow. You guys take the cake for arrogance. Your prejudices are “enlightened” far beyond the “arcane” men chosen by God to lead the Church. You know better than those chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead us, and are the “real people who know what faith really implies.” Do you even realize how comical your statements sound?
If you don’t accept the reality of the Catholic Church’s magesterium and structures and how they are used by God to lead the Church, why in the world do you continue as Catholics? If I was as sure as you all seem to be about my own personal magesterium, I would simply go and become an Anglican or a Lutheran, as they seem to be basically what this blog supports. I honestly cannot understand why those who have so much animosity, distrust and contempt for the embodied reality of the Catholic Church don’t simply follow their thought processes and leave. Can someone explain this to me?

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Lois Denneno

posted July 6, 2008 at 5:07 pm

I’m not sure who is “arrogant” perhaps we all are. My concern is that we all think we know who Jesus is and what he wants. I’m not arrogant enough to think I have a special in on His message. What I am certain of is that Jesus was and is not a Catholic of either the Eastern or Roman rite. It seems he preached and lived Love not condemnation of this or that doctrine or “thought process.”
It is also written “by their fruits they will know them”. The Holy Spirit it seems to me at least cannot be true to it’s name if He/She chooses leaders that are more concerned about Doctrinal thought processes than innocent children being abused.
Who is more destructive someone who abuses a child or hides and allows this abuse to continue. Or a Pope who rewards Bishops by promoting them to cushey jobs in Rome?
If someone is deserving of interdict or excommunication it is the leader who didn’t protect children rather than ordainers of women priests. I refuse to go away and become an Anglican or Lutheran. I am a Catholic and intend to stay and be true to Christ as the Spirit gives me the light to see him.

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Nancy Danielson

posted July 7, 2008 at 9:01 am

“If someone is deserving of interdict or excommunication it is the leader who didn’t protect children rather than ordainers of women priests.”
Lois Denneno, who is this “leader” that you are referring to and what exactly is your evidence that this “leader” did not protect these children?

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posted July 12, 2008 at 9:58 pm

In response to John Feltman, he brings up some good points, but misses some critical points. For example canon 1329: if the election was based on one issue only, and that was the abortion issue this would be valid. Unfortunately there are multiple issues, such as the economy, general health care, care of the elderly, poverty, crime, drugs, the war in Iraq, and other issues that are, in my opinion, of far greater significance to our society than just the abortion issue alone. Voting based on one issue is irresponsible, which is a violation of one or more of the canon on social responsibility.
In regards to the comment regarding secular degeneration – I believe it has less to do with “miscommunication” and more to do with the simple fact that the American Catholic community has lost and continues to lose faith and confidence in the leadership of the Church. Bishop Robinson, in his brief visit to the US recognized the issue in his comment:
” … angry, some disillusioned and many were struggling hard to keep faith in the church. But even these disaffected people still cared and still wanted to see a better church. … the American church has some massive problems before it. ”
Blaming this group, that group, attempting to discredit this voice or that voice serves no purpose, other that to obscure the real problem, that the American Catholic community has lost confidence in its leadership. Every new revelation further erodes that confidence.
Attempting to beat the laity into submission with catechisms, canonical threats, etc. is not going to restore that confidence. Attempting to silence the voices that speak out will not work either. The British tried it, and failed, the Spanish tried it, and failed, our own government has tried it and failed, … the Vatican continues to try and continues to fail.
The only way to restore confidence is through truth. It is time for the leadership of the Church to start being truthful. Even if it is embarrassing, even if it is unpleasant, even if some of the bishopric must face civil/criminal charges for their actions, the truth will set the process in motion that will restore confidence in the leadership of the Catholic Church.
The truth will start the forgiveness process, the truth will begin the healing and restoration process. Hiding behind the wall of doctrinal silence will only make things worse.

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