Archbishop Burke to Terry: Be liberal in denying communion

Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke.jpgThat’s the thrust of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s message to Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry, who released video of his interview this week. Terry, who is leading one of the more eye-popping campaigns against Obama’s Notre Dame appearance, had promised “candor and clarity” and words of “thunder” from Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Vatican’s highest court.

You can read the full transcript of Burke’s March 2 interview with Terry (posted in a pdf file at his “humble plea” site) after the jump. But Burke seems to make three controversial points:

One, that abortion rights supporting politicians–or those who support “killing children,” as Terry and Burke phrase it–should not receive communion, and anyone distrubuting communion has the right and duty to withhold communion. (Burke also made this argument in detail in a 2007 article in “Periodica de re Canonica,” the canon law journal.)

Two, Burke–on the prompting of Terry’s remark about “the deafening silence from so many other Bishops”–calls on Catholics to make their views (about who should not be receiving communion) known to their priests and bishops, and he calls on his brother bishops to listen to them. I wonder whether much of the hierarchy will appreciate such an intervention from Burke, especially given his current job, and the fact that he was giving the remarks to Terry, who has been a forceful critic of the U.S. hierarchy. before the interview, Terry presented Burke with a copy of his pamphlet, Oves Sine Pastore (Sheep without a Shepherd), which, as he puts it, “shows the connection between childkilling and the U.S. Bishops, and begs the Vatican to intervene in the affairs of the U.S. Catholic Church.”

Three, and perhaps most problematic, Burke appears to agree with Terry’s assessment that Catholics who voted for Obama are guilty of cooperation with evil. That would seem to provide a basis for Catholics to argue that Obama voters could be denied communion. Here is the relevant exchange:

Mr. Terry: There are many Catholics who believed that to vote for Obama – knowing his promises to extend child-killing even further – that to knowingly vote for him under those circumstances was a type of cooperation with moral evil. It was cooperating with evil. Do you concur with that and if so, why?

Archbishop Burke: Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a form of cooperation, because by voting we put a person in office. And people say, “What does my vote matter?” Well, your vote is either a vote to put someone in office who will do what is right and just, or someone who won’t. And so if you, knowing that abortion is a grave crime against human life – is the killing of an innocent, defenseless human life – and you vote for the candidate who says that he intends to make that more available – that practice of infanticide – you bear a responsibility. That is, you have cooperated in the election of this person into office, there’s no question about it.

There will likely be more to come, as Archbishop Burke is set to be the keynote speaker at the Sixth Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington on May 7. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be a special guest speaker. As RNS’s Dan Burke (no relation to the archbishop–he says) notes, Bush addressed the conservative-leaning event, but no word on whether Obama would go, or has been invited. Intell on that welcome.

For the full text of the interview…

Mr. Terry: Your Excellency, it’s a delight to be with you. Thank you so much.

Archbishop Raymond Burke: Pleased to have you come, and to visit with you.

Mr. Terry: For the umpteenth time, I and the others are asking, under Canon 915 what should or should not be done?

Archbishop Burke: The Canon is completely clear, it is not subject in my judgment to any other interpretations. When someone is publicly and obstinately in grave sin we may not administer Holy Communion to the person. And that, basically, for two reasons: number one, to prevent the person himself or herself from committing a sacrilege, and secondly, to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist. In other words, to approach, to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, when one insists on remaining in grave sin, is such a violation of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, so that Communion must not be given to people who are publicly, obstinately, in grave sin.

Mr. Terry: And so does that apply to politicians of any party that are saying: “Yes, it’s okay to abort children” -to kill children?

Archbishop Burke: Yes, for someone who in any way contributes in an active way to the murder of innocent defenseless infants in the womb–children in the womb–from the very inception of human life, this is the greatest of sins. And such a person, until he or she has reformed his or her life, should not approach to receive Holy Communion.

Mr. Terry: And if they do approach, the person who is administering Holy Communion should say, “No.”?

Archbishop Burke: Right. In fact, the Canon puts the burden upon the minister of Holy Communion whether it’s the ordinary minister which would be a bishop, a priest, a deacon–or an extraordinary minister–it doesn’t make any difference. It says they’re not to be admitted to receive Holy Communion. Normally speaking, in my experience, when I have spoken with, for instance, Catholic politicians who have insisted on supporting pro-abortion legislation and told them they should not approach any more to receive Holy Communion, in my experience they don’t. Now, where Bishops have not applied the Canon, often times it’s said that this will cause some kind of disorder at the time of distribution of Holy Communion. That’s not verified. It’s not using Holy Communion to make a statement at all, it’s simply respecting this most sacred gift we have – namely, the Body and Blood of Christ–which can only be received when one has repented of his sins. And I would also make the point–and I believe that it is true that on the contrary – those public figures–Catholics–who are consistently promoting pro-abortion legislation and policies–use reception of Holy Communion to try to justify what they are doing; in other words, to present themselves as devout Catholics, when in fact they are sinning against the most fundamental teaching of the moral law. [Thou shall not murder.]

Mr. Terry: When the election was approaching, Bishop Martino said he would not serve Communion to Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden. There were a handful of other bishops who made similar statements, for which the laity and the faithful were rejoicing.

But the deafening silence from so many other Bishops–and also the bishops who stepped up such as in Washington D.C., Virginia, others …Massachusetts…[and] said that we will serve communion–was so painful for us. What word of encouragement would you give, first to the laity on our struggle to bring orthodoxy back, and then to your brother bishops and priests?

Archbishop Burke: I think simply to say: reflect upon this norm of the Church’s discipline–Canon 915–which is one of the most important canons to safeguard the greatest treasure that we have in this life, namely, the communion that we have with our Lord Jesus Christ, and His true body and His true blood; and to, in every way work so that also public witness is given to the sacredness of the Holy Eucharist. And so I would encourage the faithful when they are scandalized by the giving of Holy Communion to persons are publicly and obstinately in sin, that they go to their pastors, whether it’s their parish priest or to their bishop, to insist that this scandal stop. Because, it is weakening the faith of everyone. It’s giving the impression that it must be morally correct to support procured abortion, in at least in some circumstances, if not also generally. So they need to insist that their parish priest and the bishops, and for the rest…to my brother bishops and brother priests…simply to say: the service of the Church in the world today has to begin first and foremost with the protection of the life of those who are the most defenseless and the most innocent, namely the unborn, and certainly has to extend also to those who are gravely ill, or burdened with serious illness, who have special needs; and also now more and more their lives are being threatened by a culture of death which sadly has infected our nation. So I would just urge my brother bishops and my brother priests to see as the most fundamental witness and service which they can give in leading also the faithful in their pastoral care is the apostolate of the respect for human life.

Mr. Terry: The election of Obama sent shock waves around the world concerning the right to life of babies because of his commitment to pursue FOCA, to try to force hospitals – Catholic hospitals – into giving the morning after pill, other things – [the repeal of the] Mexico City policy. From your vantage point here in the Vatican, what kind of fruit around the world is this poison that’s percolating in America producing?

Archbishop Burke: There is no question, and I certainly see it here, living now here in Europe, and Italy, and also with the kind of communication within all of Europe that Barack Obama–President Obama–is a charismatic figure. And there was a great deal of–especially through the media–a great deal of publicity and so forth regarding the “hope,” the word that he used so much, that he offered–not only for the United States– and for the world. And so you can be certain that the whole world, and especially the English speaking world–which let us recall, is a great part of the world–is following very carefully and attentively what this man is doing–this world leader–which he is. And therefore, it becomes more incumbent upon us then ever, also in our responsibility for the scandal and the harm being done, not only in our own nation which is in itself– which we think about 50 million since the Roe v. Wade decision, 50 million unborn infants murdered–but also to consider the effect that our nation is having on the whole world in this culture of death.

America has the call to lead–to use its influence in the way that will give glory to God and will serve the common good in its most essential element: and that is by turning around this culture of death, and especially protecting the right to life of the unborn. So our responsibility is even greater than just for our own nation – which is in itself such a weighty matter. But we have to see how this is also having, adding a tremendous influence in the English speaking world, but also in the whole world, because of the charismatic nature of our present President. But in any case, no matter who is the President of the United States, here is a world leader with a tremendous capacity to promote the common good, but at the same time sadly, who could–by promoting and implementing anti-life legislation measures–could be an agent of death.

Mr. Terry: If I was a Catholic in another country, I would be watching the news unfold in America hearing the silence of so many Catholics, the debate over communion, and it might have the effect of me just saying, “Well, we have abortion here, they’ve got it there, let’s just all learn to live with it and go on about our business.”

Archbishop Burke: Well, I think this
is precisely the effect that it has had. The communications today are instantaneous. The whole world knows that a very high percentage of Catholics in fact voted for this very anti-life candidate and so they watch this very carefully, and what the world needs to see now is a strong witness on the part of all Catholics and we can’t be content with the fact that some 55% – or whatever it is – who for whatever reason, supported this anti-life program. They have to see now that Catholics in the United States are alive and faithful and that they are going to work to protect human life, and above all, to let the President of the United States know that this is the number one issue.

Mr. Terry: There are many Catholics who believed that to vote for Obama – knowing his promises to extend child-killing even further – that to knowingly vote for him under those circumstances was a type of cooperation with moral evil. It was cooperating with evil. Do you concur with that and if so, why?

Archbishop Burke: Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a form of cooperation, because by voting we put a person in office. And people say, “What does my vote matter?” Well, your vote is either a vote to put someone in office who will do what is right and just, or someone who won’t. And so if you, knowing that abortion is a grave crime against human life – is the killing of an innocent, defenseless human life – and you vote for the candidate who says that he intends to make that more available – that practice of infanticide – you bear a responsibility. That is, you have cooperated in the election of this person into office, there’s no question about it.

Mr. Terry: Archbishop, thank you for your time. Do you have any closing comments or exhortations?

Archbishop Burke: President Obama uses this word “hope” in a way that for us is very disturbing. We need to have hope, the hope that is founded in Jesus Christ, alive for us in the Church; Jesus Christ who gave His life for everyone without exception, and with a particular love for the suffering and for those who are the most defenseless. And so we have to be filled with hope and give ourselves more than ever to His work, to His mission of protecting human life, and so I ask God to bless you very much in what you are doing to advance the cause of life.

Mr. Terry: Thank you, Your Excellency; long life to you.

Comments read comments(16)
post a comment
Gerard Nadal

posted March 26, 2009 at 8:09 am

“Archbishop Burke: Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a form of cooperation, because by voting we put a person in office. And people say, “What does my vote matter?” Well, your vote is either a vote to put someone in office who will do what is right and just, or someone who won’t. And so if you, knowing that abortion is a grave crime against human life – is the killing of an innocent, defenseless human life – and you vote for the candidate who says that he intends to make that more available – that practice of infanticide – you bear a responsibility. That is, you have cooperated in the election of this person into office, there’s no question about it.”
That’s as succinct and airtight a statement as any Bishop can make. Archbishop Burke has spoken a devastating truth, and there is no escaping it. Catholics who vote for politicians who pledge the full weight of their office in the continued slaughter of innocents should not be arguing over the ‘right’ to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. They should tremble at the prospect of meeting Him unrepentant at the Judgment.

report abuse

Your Name

posted March 26, 2009 at 8:21 am

Hmmm, interesting that the Press Club has hosted both Randall Terry and Jerimiah Wright. Two of a kind, no?

report abuse

Ed Schneider

posted March 26, 2009 at 8:38 am

When Burke was Archbishop of St. Louis, he was faced with protests from abuse victims and their families, mostly over the coverup by the institutional church. He told them, in effect, to put a cork in it, and further said that those who continued their protests were guilty of the sin of disobedience.
As to Randall Terry, he did for the pro-life movement what Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael did for the civil rights movement.
As the old saying goes, consider the source.

report abuse

david clohessy

posted March 26, 2009 at 9:22 am

Gerard Nadal

posted March 26, 2009 at 9:41 am

Ed Schneider and David Clohessy,
The failure to adequately address the rape of children does not absolve one of the responsibility to speak against the murder of children. Turn it around. Building on the consensus that murdering defenseless babies is morally repugnant, we extend that concern to protect them at every stage of development.
Do you gentlemen support the institution of abortion? If yes, you support the murder of children, but not their rape. If you are pro-life, then why would you argue against a Bishop defending children from murder, simply because he did not do a good job at dealing with some who were raped?

report abuse


posted March 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

This seems like a very idealistic stance by the church, but perfectly within their rights. As I’ve said before, I’d respect their stance alot more if they applied the same principles to politicians and church members who support war and the death penalty.

report abuse


posted March 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

The former Archbishop is correct on many levels, but he’s far to removed to exact any price from implementing such rigor. Its my guess that the next step is political as it always should have been. Rigorous adherence to the Moral law with a little Machiavellian political craft can go a long way here as a strategy. Condemnation is deserved, put its not a substitute for implementing statecraft as bulwark against secular humanism. We need a plan of action that merits the rigor of Moral law, condemnation alone is inadequate.

report abuse

bill bannon

posted March 26, 2009 at 9:57 am

Until the Pope comes down from the Heaven of writing and authoring and actually enters into these controversies at the level of administration, they are all false dramas. Popes have become authors who are guaranteed a million plus sales figure and who do nothing real at the administrative level of these controversies and so we have had these controversies for several decades (since Cuomo and Ferraro for pete’s sake) while Popes write and get published. And the blogs are assured of constant controversy. Oi Veh. Do you notice that in the New Testament, it is Paul who is the main writer and Peter less so….why?…Peter was working on administration. In the history of the entire Church, Aquinas is The Writer par excellance and his writing exceeds that of a hundred Popes put together. In short, we need Popes to pope once again. Leave the authoring to the Catholic authors who could use the money to pay their electric bills.

report abuse

Your Name

posted March 26, 2009 at 10:10 am

Ah yes, who else can we humans exclude from God’s grace and mercy? Let’s see …
I wonder if and when these religiosos will publish the entire list.
Used to be in my time, ‘Whosoever will may come’. These guys are an affront to “Christianity”.

report abuse


posted March 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

Gerald Nadal: The Pope himself has said that it is possible to vote for a pro-choice candidate for proportionate reasons and as long as the intent of the vote is not to promote abortion (in other words, one votes despite the pro-choice stand, not because of it). Many seem to think that there are no “propotionate reasons” in such a case or in any conceivable case; but if the then-Cardianl Ratzinger had thought so, he could simply have said it clearly, i.e., he could have said that there are never permissible reasons for voting for a pro-choice candidate. From the fact that he did not say this, I deduce that he did and does think that such reasons can exist, and presumably not only in some super-unlikely, super-extreme situation (“Do I vote for the pro-choice candidate or Hitler? Hmmm….”)
As I’ve pointed out many, many times, both the current Pope as well as John Paul II have been plenty cordial with many, many pro-choice European politicians, in some cases giving them various awards and such. To say the least, this seems like a double standard.
Logically, the fact that Archbishop Burke failed to act appropriately against pedophile priests is separate from the issue of abortion. However, ethically, his thundering against the latter does not absolve him of his behavior in the former. Please see Luke 17:1-3 regarding people who enable this kind of thing (note well that Jesus does not say, “unless, of course, they espouse the proper views on abortion.”).
Finally, I notice that during the past campaign, very little was said about Giuliani. I wonder, if he’d got elected President and been invited to Notre Dame, if Archbishop Burke would have responded the same way? It is fascinating that with the exception of the late, great Cardinal O’Connor, who did take Giuliani to task, the response from Catholic prelates in this country towards pro-choice Republicans has been pretty much crickets. In which regard, note Matthew 7:3-5.

report abuse


posted March 26, 2009 at 11:47 am

It’s the RCC being the RCC. Nothing new there. However, no one tells me who to vote for. It’s called a “secret ballot” for a reason.

report abuse

ed gleason

posted March 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Five Repubican appointed Catholic Supreme Court Justices [a majority] won’t vote to even hear a case to overturn Roe/Wade…. No bishop bluster on them… only Dems get condemned… this partisan approach has been a failure for 35 years…. No non-Catholics have bought into bishop bluster and Catholics are ignoring them.. as a pro life person I know only a ‘consistent ethic’ a common cause approach will get the respect of an American majority.. [NM just banned capital punishment]. Pope John Pauls encyclicalon life had a consistent life approach….Cardinal Bernadin’s seamless garment approach was de-railed by cardinal Law and the Burkes of this country.

report abuse


posted March 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm

It is entirely possible to be Pro-Life and aggressively against abortion, and at the same time argue against a Bishop making sweeping statements of a one-size-fits-all, public ruling on who should and should not be given access to the Eucharist.
These two issues are separate. A personal participation in the Eucharist is what happens within the whole context of a person’s life and they in no way must make any kind of public statement of their soul’s state in order to receive communion.
Bishop Burke’s kind of blanket condemnation encourages a “witch-hunt” mentality within the congregation (especially if there are politicians nearby) and it goes against all the teachings of the Church through its Catechism, Tradition and Doctrine.
My argument with Bishop Burke has absolutely NO BEARING on my belief that abortion is an evil, and that it should be removed from the human experience. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous, at best.

report abuse

ed gleason

posted March 26, 2009 at 4:17 pm

A/B Burke’s extention of the permission for communion refusal to the 100-200 thousand extrodinary Eucharistic ministers is an invitation to pastoral anarchy and community disruption that if not ‘struck down’ by US bishops will be stupid beyound belief…
“every man a priest’?? maybe Burke is a cryto Lutheran …

report abuse

Little Bear

posted March 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Did you read that Archbishop Burke issued an “apology to his brother
bishps” stating that he did not know Terry was going to go public
with the tape? Once the Arch/bishops got wind of this tape, I’m sure
Archbishop Burke’s phone was ringing off of the hook.
But Burke did not apologize for his remarks—just that he’s sorry that they were made public. It was just supposed to be for the “Anti-
Abortion workers—nobody else.

report abuse


posted March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm

This issue is about flagrant abuse of the sacrament. Not whether someone has voting for a politician. There would be no “witchhunts”
The action must be habitual, open and public defiance of the church teaching.
Secret ballot is meant to protect the privacy of your vote.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to reasons to vote one way or the other.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!  

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That means, in short, that I'll have to sign off from blogging h

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored the new look Calvin in an essay at PoliticsDaily, "Patr

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, hence the long absence. Apologies to those who have chec

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's contribution in developing countries" were key topics of discussio

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.