PopeWatch: Burke Out, Wuerl In

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If it wasn’t already clear the way the wind was blowing from the Vatican, the dumping of Cardinal Burke from the Congregation of Bishops this week was yet another indication:

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has been bumped from the influential Congregation of Bishops — a post that gave him say in the selection of bishops.

Some observers of the Roman Catholic Church said the move by Pope Francis is yet another example of his effort to tone down highly publicized stances on divisive social issues such as gay marriage, contraception and abortion, on which Burke has made strong remarks.

The announcement came Monday from the Vatican as Francis reorganizes the Congregation, which has considerable power because it recommends bishop candidates to the pope when vacancies occur. New bishops shepherd their local flocks, but some of them will be promoted down the road to high-profile church leadership positions.

Also gone from the Congregation is another former archbishop from St. Louis, Justin Rigali — though that action was anticipated, because Rigali recently stepped down as archbishop in Philadelphia.

Asked for comment, the St. Louis Archdiocese issued a statement that said: “Although the tangible impact of the Congregation of Bishops to the local Archdiocese of St. Louis, as it relates to Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Rigali’s membership, is difficult to measure, it is without question that the spiritual fruits of their labor will be felt for many years to come throughout our universal Church.”

Catholic news reports have drawn contrasts between Francis and what many regard as the more conservative Burke.

Even so, Burke will retain his position as president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.

On the same day, Francis named Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who heads the Washington archdiocese, to the Congregation of Bishops, making him the only new member named from the United States.

National Catholic Reporter journalist John Allen said in an email that the “face-value reading” of the changes was that Francis wants more moderate bishops, fewer who are “heavily invested in culture wars.”

Even outside of Catholic bubbles, Burke became well known in 2004 when he said he would deny Communion — what Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ — to then-presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry for his stance on abortion.

Burke also dug in his heels over the control of finances at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, a Polish congregation in St. Louis, in a saga played up in national and international headlines.

More recently, Burke, in a radio report, seemed to disagree with Francis’ comments that Catholic dialogue has been too narrow.

“One gets the impression, or it’s interpreted this way in the media,” Burke said in the report, “that (Pope Francis) thinks we’re talking too much about abortion, too much about the integrity of marriage as between one man and one woman. But we can never talk enough about that.”

In September, Francis said: “We have to find a new balance. Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Go here to read the rest from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  Pro-abort Catholic pols should rejoice in this.  Burke believed that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be denied communion.  Whereas Wuerl was clear that he would never deny such politicians communion:

Wuerl said he will make no effort to keep Speaker Pelosi from receiving Communion, saying first “there’s a question about whether this canon [915] was ever intended to be used’’ to correct Catholics in grave error.

Canon 915 states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

“I stand with the great majority of American bishops and bishops around the world in saying this canon was never intended to be used this way,” said Wuerl.

Wuerl also said that he thought “we’ve been making progress” in conveying the pro-life message to the Democratic Party, but “There was just a setback with the distraction of Communion.”

(Read Archbishop Wuerl’s interview for Politics Daily)

Wuerl’s statements appear to contradict a 2004 statement by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger titled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” in which Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, stated: “Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

Vatican to pro-life Catholics:  you are on your own.

More to explorer


  1. Either Cardinal Wuerl is unaware of the precedence set in Sacred Scripture, or he is aware and ignores such precedence.

    1st Timothy 1:19-20

    By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

    1st Corinthians 5:1-5

    It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    Revelation 2:20-23

    But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

    Acts 5:1-11

    But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

  2. “Wuerl said he will make no effort to keep Speaker Pelosi from receiving Communion, saying first “there’s a question about whether this canon [915] was ever intended to be used’’ to correct Catholics in grave error.”

    Honestly I have no formed opinion on the prudence of denying Communion to Catholics like Pelosi. That said, to be consistent Wuerl would have to concede that the canon should also not have been used to deny Holy Communion to Catholic Nazis complicit in the Holocaust. I somehow doubt that he would see it that way, but I also doubt that he could articulate a rational explanation.

  3. I can speak from experience about Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Pittsburgh native, former co-adjutor of the archdiocese of Seattle (send by John Paul II to control Raymond Hunthausen, who was becoming a lunatic) and former bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

    It was in 2004 when John FARC Kerry was running for President when the Communion controversy began again. As most people know, Kerry is married to John Heinz´widow, who inherited great wealth (but not control of the H.J. Heinz company) from John Heinz. Mrs. Kerry inherited a rather large estate in the North Hills of suburban Pittsburgh and occasionally the Kerry would spend a weekend there. Kerry showed up for communion, and then Bishop Wuerl told the parish priest he was right to give the abortionist Kerry Communion.

    Bishop Wuerl went on a parish closing binge in the 1980s after being named Bishop of Pittsburgh. Many old suburbs and neighborhoods had multiple Catholic parishes with little hope for turning things around. One parish then Bishop Wuerl sought to close was Holy Wisdom Parish in the North Side. PennDOT (translated – Pennsylvania Department of “negligible” Transportation) wanted to level Holy Wisdom. Wuerl sold the parish to PennDOT against the desires of the parishioners and PennDOT was set to destroy it. On a Friday November night five PennDOT officials, after approving the deal, boarded a flight to return to Harrisburg. The plane crashed, killing everyone on board.

    Today, this parish is home to the Latin Mass community of St. Therese of Lisieux.

    Oh, did I mention – after David Zubik returned from Green Bay (where he invited the FSSP to set up shop) seminary enrollment increased in Pittsburgh AND bishop Zubik granted the Latin Mass community a full time priest where the Mass is celebrated daily, not just on Sundays, holy days and First Saturday.

    Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence is from Pittsburgh. Tobin speaks out regularly against abortion and homosexualism. Tobin is what Wuerl is not.

    Either Tobin or Zubik will lead the Chicago Archdiocese when Cardinal George is finally allowed to retire.

    Wuerl is the kind of cleric who will NEVER confront a Democrat. He is blind to what the Democrat Party is and what it will be and what it will do – even after the Washington DC council mandated adoptions by homosexual couples, forcing the Washington DC Archdiocese to end adoption services.

    Cardinal Burke is a man who does not tolerate nonsense – apparently not the Holy Father’s kind of guy.

  4. Don

    To put the best light on it; If the Pope is looking for a place to transfer a Cardinal Archbishop out of rome, the Archbishop of Chicago has submitted his resignation.

    Sometimes if we don’t laugh we might cry.

  5. I am curious who will get that disaster of an archdiocese Hank. Cardinal George was completely well-meaning, but also completely ineffectual. A tough Cardinal like Burke would actually be a good match for a very tough town.

  6. Cardinal Burke in Chicago! That would be grand! Considering he was in St. Louis, Cubs fans would love him.

    Kidding aside, Cardinal Burke is man enough to face down anyone in that town.

  7. For weeks we have been wondering about the “political” leanings of Pope Francis. When you dismiss a conservative like Burke and replace him with a liberal like Wuerl, there is no longer any doubt.

  8. Having just been to the Our Lady OF Guadalupe Shrine where Cardinal Burke officiated at the Mass, this is very discouraging news. (Even though there has been rumors of it or of it happening). Having worked with Cardinal Burke while he was Bishop of Lacrosse he had already a firing squad of liberal catholics taking pot shots at him. He never minced words. Last week at the Mass he told it like it is(or should be) You cannot be a practicing Roman Catholic and support abortion. He spoke in Spanish and English as there were many Hispanics at this Mass. He spoke of marriage as between one man and one woman. I don’t know how we can put up with the likes of this Cardinal much longer, do you?

  9. The Congregation of Bishops handles ALL bishop appointments worldwide, not just those in the United States. Does absolutely everything the Vatican does have to be viewed through American liberal/conservative “culture war” glasses? How much do we know about Cardinal Burke’s track record when it comes to recommending bishops for sees in Africa, Asia and Latin America? Did he perhaps make some recommendations there that turned out to be clunkers? (Not saying he did, just pointing out a possible rational explanation for his replacement) Could it also be that while Wuerl isn’t exactly perfect on the subject of Canon 915, he might have some other skills or knowledge that could be helpful to the Congregation?

    Also, if Cardinal Burke is indeed in line to replace Cardinal George in Chicago, it wouldn’t be the first time that what appeared to be a “demotion” really wasn’t. I seem to recall a lot of traddie-leaning Catholics interpreting his move from St. Louis to the Apostolic Signatura as his being shuffled off to some obscure office in Rome to “get him out of the way”.

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