Since it's stirred up a lot of controversy lately, and since I want to do a series of posts on mis-reportage of Catholicism in the secular press, I've decided to do a Fr. Z-style (for those of you familiar with the What Does the Prayer Really Say blog) parsing of Amy Sullivan's piece from Time magazine "Priests Spar Over What It Means to be Catholic."
As I've done before, I will use [Bracketed Blue Italics] to show my comments
The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally couch even the harshest disagreements in decorous, ecclesiastical language. But it didn't take a decoder ring to figure out what Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke meant in a late-September address when he charged Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley with being under the influence of Satan, "the father of lies." [False. Archbishop Burke did use the phrase "Father of Lies," but not in specific reference to Cardinal O'Malley. He said that "One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. " This is hardly the same thing as implying that Cardinal O'Malley has a secret pact with Satan.]
Burke's broadside at O'Malley was inspired by the Cardinal's decision to permit and preside over a funeral Mass for the late Senator Ted Kennedy. And it has set the Catholic world abuzz. [Really? I was unaware of all this buzz, and I'm usually pretty up on my Catholic news.] Even more than protests over the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak, disputes over the Kennedy funeral have brought into the open an argument that has been roiling within American Catholicism. The debate nominally centers on the question of how to deal with politicians who support abortion rights. Burke and others who believe a Catholic's position on abortion trumps all other teachings have faced off against those who take a more holistic view of the faith. [Ah. I see. Those who oppose Archbishop Burke have a more holistic view of things. Because, ignoring certain core teachings of the Church is "holistic."] But at the core, the divide is over who decides what it means to be Catholic.
The Archbishop's outspoken comments did not go unnoticed in Rome. In June 2008, Burke was unexpectedly transferred to the Vatican. The move was widely interpreted as a way to put some distance between Burke and the political contest in the States. [I don't buy this idea] "It was not unrelated to issues of political timing," observes Mark Silk, a professor of religion at Trinity College. [And obviously Mark Silk is the unquestionable authority on the Vatican's motives.]
Burke's new assignment came with an impressive title: Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — essentially chief justice of the Vatican's highest court. But the job, which involves hearing appeals of lower-canon-court rulings on issues like annulment requests, did not stop him from commenting on American politics. [Is there something wrong with that, Ms. Sullivan? Bishops should not be silent on moral issues, and as an American citizen, Burke has every right to express his views on American politics, anyway.] In January he charged that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was responsible for Obama's victory because it overwhelmingly approved a document suggesting that Catholics could consider issues besides abortion when deciding how to vote. The conference's in-house news service, he added, failed to highlight Obama's moral failings in its campaign coverage. And he called Health andHuman Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice Catholic, a "source of deepest embarrassment to Catholics." [I'm embarassed...]
Burke's confrontational approach doesn't always mesh with the more discreet diplomacy favored by his Italian colleagues. "He's seen as a bull in a china shop," says an American priest and longtime Rome resident. "I've seen Italian bishops roll their eyes." [Who is this "American priest?" Given the dishonesty Ms. Sullivan employs in this piece, I wonder if he even exists. Plus, what's the significance of his opinion, anyway? And, whoever may "roll their eyes," Burke was recently appointed to the powerful Congregation for Bishops... so he's hardly being marginalized at the Vatican.]
In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the funeral plans for Kennedy would reignite a lingering dispute within the church. The question of whether the Senator should even be described as a Catholic because of his support for abortion rights and his checkered life history was hotly debated on Catholic blogs and religion websites like Beliefnet.com. Right-wing Catholics lobbied the Boston archdiocese to refuse the Kennedy family a church funeral. [Most of the objections I heard were to the tenor of the funeral, not its occurence.] Robert Royal of the Faith & Reason Institute called O'Malley's decision to go ahead with the Mass a "grave scandal" on a par with the sexual-abuse crisis. [Mr. Royal claims he never said such a thing here]
But it's one thing for partisans and bloggers to disparage a Mass for a dead Senator; it's quite another for a Vatican official to do so. Even some leading conservative Catholics may find they cannot support Burke's latest salvo. When told of the Archbishop's assertion that pro-choice Catholics should not be permitted funeral rites, Princeton professor Robert George was taken aback: "That's a very different, and obviously graver, claim than that with which I would have sympathy. I haven't heard before any bishop say that pro-abortion politicians should not be given a Catholic funeral." [Professor George claims that his quote here was misrepresented.]
Though he has presided over the difficult task of closing parishes and schools within the archdiocese, O'Malley is well liked in Boston and the broader Catholic community. He celebrated his inaugural Mass in Boston at a Spanish service, and he once joked that his scarlet Cardinal's robes would come in handy if Dick Cheney ever invited him to go hunting. O'Malley, however, should not be mistaken for a liberal member of the hierarchy. He is a conservative on matters of doctrine, and for the past few years, he has been the face of the church's opposition to Massachusetts' gay-marriage law.
But O'Malley did not hesitate to push back against the uproar that surrounded the Kennedy funeral. In a Sept. 2 post on CardinalSeansBlog.org — he is the only Cardinal with a blog — O'Malley wrote, "In the strongest terms I disagree" with those who believe Kennedy did not deserve a funeral Mass. "We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief," he continued. "At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church."
The question now is whether the Vatican will move again to muzzle Burke. [Because the Vatican has "muzzled" him in the past?] When he criticized Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl last spring during a videotaped interview, he was forced to apologize less than 24 hours after the video aired. [Forced to apologize? He made the mistake of trusting Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue). Terry interviewed him and misrepresented the context of his remarks to make it sound like he was condemning Archbishop Weurl when he never intended to do so. He apologized for the confusion. Why, exactly, should we assume that the apology was forced?] In early September, the bishop of Scranton, Pa. — a Burke protégé — abruptly resigned after a stormy tenure and was not reassigned. [While I don't really know the details of Bp. Martino's resignation, he claimed he was resigning because he was sick. That would explain why he wasn't reassigned. It's very unlike the Vatican to kick a bishop to the curb over a few anti-abortion remarks...] Veteran Vatican watchers took it as a sign that some Burkean antics — such as threatening to refuse Vice President Joe Biden Communion and disparaging the USCCB — would not be tolerated. [Was that a consensus among "veteran Vatican watchers?" Wait? It wasn't!?!?! I'm shocked... SHOCKED, I tell you... that Amy Sullivan would try to mislead us!]
Rome has been silent about Burke's most recent public statements. [Sometimes, silence is not a statement.] In late September, O'Malley was named to the Pontifical Council for the Family, a minor and expected appointment, but also a reminder that the Boston Cardinal has friends in high places. [And, as I mentioned before, Archbishop Burke recently got a major appointment to the Congregation for Bishops. The Vatican doesn't care about stupid media-fabricated faux-feuds.] "From the point of view of doctrine, Benedict has absolute firmness," says a Vatican insider. "But he does not want to see it play out in a confrontational way."
There are other signs that the word has gone forth, at least for now. In years past, the annual Red Mass held the Sunday before the U.S. Supreme Court's term opens has been so heavily steeped in pro-life rhetoric that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg now declines to attend. This year's service, however, featured a homily by the new chair of the bishop's pro-life committee that included only the subtlest of references to abortion. [This new chair, Archbishop DiNardo, was the first bishop to criticize Notre Dame over the Obama debacle... so, don't think that he's averse to speaking strongly on these matters.] More striking was the image of Biden taking Communion without incident.