WASHINGTON (CNS) — When Cardinal-designate Raymond L. Burke was named in 2008 to head the Vatican’s highest tribunal, he came to the post with the reputation of being one of the most outspoken U.S. bishops on moral and political issues.
Some pundits wondered whether the appointment to the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature would in effect sideline someone so vocal, but since taking the Vatican post, he has been anything but silent.
He has insisted that holy Communion be refused to Catholic politicians who actively support legal abortion, said the Democratic Party in the United States “risks transforming itself definitively into a ‘party of death,'” and said nothing could justify casting a ballot for a candidate who supports “anti-life” and “anti-family” legislation.
During the 2004 U.S. elections, he was one of the first U.S. bishops to say publicly that he would withhold Communion from Catholic politicians with voting records that contradicted Church teaching on abortion, euthanasia and other fundamental moral issues.
Afterward he told Catholic News Service he was convinced of the need to raise pro-life issues with voters and to continue to promote “awareness of the moral law.”
Pope Benedict XVI named the 62-year-old prelate as one of 24 new cardinals Oct. 20. After he is installed in the College of Cardinals Nov. 20 at the Vatican, Cardinal-designate Burke will serve as an adviser to the pope and be eligible to vote in a papal election until his 80th birthday.
“Only the knowledge of God’s immeasurable and unceasing outpouring of mercy and love from the glorious pierced heart of Jesus gives me the confidence to accept the great honor and burden which His Holiness intends to confer upon me,” Cardinal-designate Burke said in a statement.
He expressed gratitude to the pope and said his thoughts also turned to his late parents, his many family members, priests, religious and laypeople who have supported him in his vocation for the last 35 years.
But he also is mindful of “the many challenges which the church faces in our day in carrying out her divine mission for the salvation of the world. … I am deeply conscious of the critical importance of the loving witness of the Church to the truth,” he said.
The cardinal-designate had been in St. Louis as archbishop for four years when Pope Benedict named him the head of the Apostolic Signature. Before that he was bishop of La Crosse, Wis., from 1995 to 2004.
A canon lawyer, the archbishop worked for the Apostolic Signature from 1989 to 1994 and was named a member of the body in July 2006. He also served on the Roman Rota, the Church’s central appeals court which hears appeals from lower Church court decisions around the world, chiefly in marriage annulment cases.
Last year, he also was named to the Congregation for Bishops, a congregation that meets about every two weeks to review candidates for vacant dioceses and make their recommendations to the pope. He will help shape the world’s episcopate.
In July of this year, he also became a member of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
The cardinal-designate, a native of Richland Center, Wis., was born June 30, 1948. He attended Catholic schools in Richland Center and Stratford and high school at Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse.
Following college and theological studies at Holy Cross Seminary, The Catholic University of America in Washington and Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he was ordained a priest June 29, 1975, by Pope Paul VI at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal-designate Burke’s first assignment as a priest was as associate rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman in La Crosse. He returned to Rome from 1980 to 1984 to study canon law at Gregorian University. He returned briefly to the La Crosse Diocese in 1984, serving as moderator of the curia and vice chancellor of the diocese. The following year, he again returned to Rome as a visiting professor of canon law at Gregorian University and he taught at the school until his 1994 appointment as bishop of La Crosse.
He is among a group of eight bishops who issued a letter in July 2002 asking their fellow prelates to consider holding a plenary council to promote holiness, priestly celibacy and sound sexual morality in the U.S. Church. Their letter said such a council could help to address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis.
During the 2004 election year, he said he would refuse to give Communion to the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Catholic who supports legal abortion. His announcement prompted debate about the Church’s role in politics and about the liturgical rules on denying Communion.
Weeks after the 2004 elections, he told Catholic News Service he said was glad he raised pro-life issues with Catholic voters and was convinced of the need to continue to promote “awareness of the moral law.”
“There’s no sense on my part of having accomplished something and now being finished with it,” he said.
He also noted that refusing Communion to lawmakers who do not support Church teaching is a pastoral responsibility and a way for the Church to show it is serious about these fundamental issues.
While he was archbishop of St. Louis, the cardinal-designate faced some difficult issues. In 2005, he approved a parish consolidation plan that closed 24 parishes and 10 elementary schools in the archdiocese.
Before his appointment in St. Louis, the cardinal-designate told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, that his most fulfilling moments as a priest were his years of teaching, especially in priestly formation.
He said the most difficult challenge he had faced as a bishop was “dealing with dissent within the church and with the secular ideas that have insidiously entered in.” The cardinal-designate, six years ago, also noted that curia and pastors would likely characterize his leadership style as “clear, definite, strong.”
At the time, he reaffirmed top priority that seems to still hold true for him today: “to teach the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”
“If we don’t teach that, there isn’t much else that we can teach that will make much sense,” he said. “We as Catholics are called constantly to give witness to the inviolability of the life of the unborn.”
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