When the Only Good Dissenter, is a Stifled Dissenter
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 07:44:44 PM EST
The Catholic Right, Part Sixty-three
"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.

The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up? He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.

Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'" Matthew 13:24-30

On June 27, 2008 the Vatican announced that St. Louis, Missouri's Archbishop Raymond Burke was promoted to Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura -- a position that except for the Pope is considered the highest judicial position within the Catholic Church. It is essentially being the Chief Justice of the Church's Supreme Court.

Pope Benedict may believe he is cultivating the vine by promoting Burke.  If so, he is sadly mistaken.  Instead, he is letting a pernicious weed grow amid the wheat, one that could choke both the Church and the democratic liberal society within which faith thrives.  To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, Archbishop Raymond Burke is a Prince of the Catholic Church whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant.

One of Archbishop Burke's last official acts in the Diocese of St. Louis illustrates how this is so.

During his reign as the Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri Raymond Burke sewed more discord and has engaged in more heavy-handed confrontation than perhaps any other member of the American Catholic clergy.  For example, he notoriously attempted to influence the 2004 Presidential Election by threatening to deny Democratic nominee John Kerry Holy Communion for his pro-choice positions.  He also threatened St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus with similar punishment earlier this year when Majerus dared to say that he supported Hillary Clinton because like her, he is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem cell research.

Archbishop Burke did his best to defeat Missouri's 2006 referendum supporting embryonic stem cell research - this despite the research's potential for curing life threatening diseases; and despite the fact that Missourians of other faiths supported the measure on religious grounds.  Unsurprisingly, the archbishop believes that the only good dissent is stifled dissent.

Burke may have been indicating this apparent axiom of his judicial temperament recently.  When the Bully in St. Louie  banished Sister of Charity Louise Lears, a member of the pastoral team at St. Cronan's Catholic Church in South St. Louis, and a coordinator of religious education in the archdiocese and denied her from receiving any of the sacraments within that jurisdiction.  Why?  Because she believed women should be eligible for ordination.

The National Catholic Reporter reports:

They call her a bright, energetic, compassionate and faith-filled woman. They see her as a creative, generous and selfless person, a highly effective parish minister. They say she is first rate teacher and preacher. They view her as a person guided by the gospels including an unwavering commitment to justice and the local poor.

Her offense?  She dared to believe that all church ministries, including ordination, should be open to women.  And she dared to attend an ordination of women to the priesthood, one that Archbishop Burke had a mole videotape. As the National Catholic Reporter duly noted on July 9, 2008:

The archdiocese of St. Louis authorized the video recording of a Catholic women's ordination ceremony that took place in a synagogue last November. It then used the video, along with photographs apparently taken from the video, as evidence to punish a Catholic nun who attended the liturgy, according to several people familiar with the case.

The independent periodical also reported:

However, several people familiar with the documents, prepared by the archdiocese that made up the case against her, strongly criticized what they called the "surveillance" video-taping.

One of the confidential archdiocesan documents, according to knowledgeable sources, was an affidavit giving permission to an individual to attend the ceremony in order to record it. The record of the ceremony is contained on two electronic discs in Lears' file.

It should be noted that  NCR also reported that while there is no evidence that the archbishop knew about or ordered the taping, "Catholics familiar with the workings of the archdiocese say it would be unlikely it could have happened without his authorization."

Burke is far from the first weed in the history of the harvest of the Church.

In his biography of St. Augustine, historian Garry Wills provided some keen insight into the ancient Archbishop of Hippo's beliefs on clergy:

"Augustine had argued that the Church on earth is a mixed body, with some weeds growing amid the wheat."(i)  

Archbishop Burke is one such weed, not growing haphazardly, but instead being well cultivated by an increasingly belligerent faction within the Vatican. And he is being cultivated to choke the wheat of the Catholic Church as well as that of liberal democracy. He callously labels any dissent, no matter how loyal, as heresy in a manner eerily similar to they way Senator Joe McCarthy viciously maligned political dissent as "communism."  The repression of Sister Lears reminds us of authoritarian reaction to the fresh ideas of people who are now Catholic icons; a modern day Bernard of Clairvaux to Sister Lears standing as a modern day Peter Abelard;  It uncomfortably echoes the bishop of Paris issued his 1277 edict in which he condemned a series of Thomas Aquinas's theses as heretical, and excommunicated the now venerated saint posthumously.  Burke, as with other obstinate and fearful men before him, is all too quick to wield the anxiety of eternal damnation in order to acheive his vision of a neo-Carlist society.

Fear. It is the bully's primary weapon.  And the same person who would use fear as a weapon to quell dissent within an organized religion would not hesitate to use that very same device on the greater secular society.  And indeed, that is precisely what Archbishop Burke and his ilk have been repeatedly doing - as they try to intimidate American Catholics into becoming docile, non-thinking citizens who would act to make other religious and non-religious citizens succumb to an ultra-orthodox Catholic morality.

As I said in my earlier piece on Burke as a leader of the Catholic Right, he is willing to use whatever means necessary to silence dissent--and to interfere with the rights of citizens and candidates for public office who disagree with Vatican teachings on certain matters.  And as I've also stated in my earlier pieces in this series, such bullies must be challenged.  Thankfully, there are Catholics making known their extreme displeasure with Archbishop Burke's authoritarian ways.  American Catholics are waking up to the dangers presented by this intolerant man and those like him.

Those who will not tolerate differing opinions will endanger the rights of others to believe as they see fit.  Standing up to Archbishop Burke and standing with Sister Lears will send two important messages: we don't tolerate bullies and we cherish a non-sectarian society that let's all religious faiths flourish, not just the stilted vision of a tyrant.

(i) Wills, Garry, Saint Augustine, A Life, page 115

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four   Part Forty-five   Part Forty-six   Part Forty-seven   Part Forty-eight   Part Forty-nine   Part Fifty   Part Fifty-one   Part Fifty-two   Part Fifty-three   Part Fifty-four   Part Fifty-five   Part Fifty-six   Part Fifty-seven   Part Fifty-eight   Part Fifty-nine   Part Sixty   Part Sixty-one   Part Sixty-two

On woman's ordination, I stand squarely with Fr. Charles Curran who at page 240 of his book Loyal Dissent keenly observes:

"The issue is primarily sociological rather than a matter of divine law. If women today should be barred from ordained priesthood because there were no women among the twelve apostles, then so should non-Semites, because all the apostles were Jews."

I firmly hope that for all the pain Sister Lears and others are now enduring for their courageous act ultimately brings about a Church that understands that dissent is not a thing to be feared, but as means to discover possible errors.

Also, I want to disclose that Rabbi Susan Talve, whose Reform Temple hosted this ordination, is my very, very good friend. Rabbi Talve is a beacon of Enlightened faith. We have both stood side-by-side in the trenches fighting for the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. As a Catholic I am very grateful to her for hosting this ordination. Needless to say, I am extremely proud to call her my friend.

Finally, I ask my fellow Catholics to make your voices heard and sign the petition in support of Sister Lears being promoted by The Women's Ordination Conference. To find the petition, just click here.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 07:49:25 PM EST

I agree that Burke should be challenged, but I fear the institutional Church is trying to break the faithful. Some people leave and opt for no religion at all, others leave and join more evangelical faiths. I fear a lot of ordinary Catholics feel rather disempowered and indifferent. Sometimes I find myself having to bite my tongue.

by khughes1963 on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:12:27 PM EST
And don't leave, Instead, stay and fight for both your Church and your country. Pushing out the mainstreamers and liberals is exactly what the reactionaries are trying to accomplish.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 08:31:33 AM EST

St. Cronan's has 3 full time ministers - Fr. Gerry Kleba, Sr. Louise, and layman Sean Collins. Sean resigned in protest of Sr. Louise's shabby treatment. Both were heavily involved in social services to the surrounding poor community and to the St. Louis - area homeless population.  This is a big hit on these populations. Fr. Kleba is undoubtedly stressed and sad.

Burke is so petty, and so uninterested in the needs of the community. Sr. Louise didn't run around trying to be a media star or bad-mouthing people. She got stuff done, quietly, and spoke her mind, quietly.

by NancyP on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 11:12:11 PM EST

And Sister Louise has consistently displayed far more grace and dignity that Archbishop Burke is ever capable of.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 08:38:23 AM EST

to me that out of many who were present at the ordination, Sr. Louise seems to have been truly singled out. I think she scares the crap out of Burke. And the Vatican. It is interesting - even the more conservative in my parish all think it is way overdue for women and married men to be clergy. (Frank - it is me Fran/Festina Lente, appearing as myself!)

by FranR on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 09:53:15 PM EST
Fran, Archbishop Burke probably did that by design. It seems obvious that he wanted to send a message, one meant to instill fear.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to pick off one person at a time. The idea is to let the target suffer alone, without being able seek solace with others similarly persecuted.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 02:05:52 PM EST

I hope this backfires. It is an outrage, as you know.

by FranR on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 03:18:28 PM EST
As reported in The National Catholic Reporter.

Hopefully Fran, this a movement starting to stir.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 07:20:45 PM EST

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