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 CNS Story:

BURKE-LIFE Nov-29-2004 (960 words) xxxi

Archbishop Burke says he'll continue politics-abortion campaign

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The U.S. election year is over, but Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said he has no intention of letting up on his campaign against Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

At the same time, Archbishop Burke said he expects the coming year to bring clarity and renewed attention to the question of refusing Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

"It's funny because some people now characterize me as a fundamentalist, or an extremist," Archbishop Burke said in an interview Nov. 26.

"But these are questions that are at the very foundation of the life of our country. We just simply have to continue to address them," he said.

Archbishop Burke spoke while in Rome for his "ad limina" visit, a series of consultative meetings with Pope John Paul II and a number of Vatican congregations.

The St. Louis archbishop made headlines earlier this year when he said he would refuse to give Communion to the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Catholic who supports legal abortion. That prompted a debate about the church's role in electoral politics and about the liturgical rules on denying Communion.

The archbishop later wrote a pastoral letter saying Catholics should not vote for politicians who support abortion or other anti-life practices.

Despite the yearlong controversy, Archbishop Burke said the topic of Communion and politics did not even come up during his week of meetings at the Vatican.

"To be honest, no one has raised the question with me," he said. In fact, he added, he has had no direct guidance from the Vatican on the issue over the last several months. The Vatican was certainly not pulling the strings, he said.

"What I did I did as a bishop, as a pastoral action," he said.

Archbishop Burke said he found the U.S. election results satisfying in one particular aspect -- a high number of voters said they gave priority consideration to moral questions.

"That is encouraging to me. It is also a great challenge, because now it falls to the church and to other moral leaders to continue to raise these questions, to write about them, to engage in civic discourse so that they continue to have that priority," he said.

That means doing a better job promoting awareness of the moral law, which is "very weak at the present moment," he said.

The archbishop said the election year, characterized by heightened interest and heightened reactions, offered an opportunity to press pro-life issues. Now that it's over, the more arduous task is "teaching in season and out of season," he said.

"There's no sense on my part of having accomplished something and now being finished with it," he said.

In that regard, Archbishop Burke said he had recently begun a pastoral conversation with a Catholic St. Louis-area congressman who has "a perfect pro-abortion record." He said he would do the same with any other Catholic politician whose policies contradict the church's teaching on life issues.

It's not a matter of calling people on the carpet, but of calling Catholics to conscience, the archbishop said.

Underlining the sacramental consequences -- such as refusal of Communion -- is a pastoral responsibility, Archbishop Burke said. It is also a way for the church to show it is serious about these fundamental issues, he said.

"Let's just be honest, the application of the church's discipline in this regard is weak," he said.

"I've said over and over, though people don't like to hear it, but it is a source of scandal, not only to Catholics but to non-Catholics, who expect from the Catholic Church that the teaching on the sacredness of human life is firm," he said.

Archbishop Burke said he thinks next year's Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, along with other Vatican initiatives during the current eucharistic year, will clarify some of the issues surrounding the Communion-politics debate.

Several other U.S. bishops have said they would not withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians. A U.S. bishops' task force examined the issue and has asked two bishops' committees to continue studying it.

Archbishop Burke said it was obvious to him that there is confusion about Canon 915 in the church's Code of Canon Law, which explains the grounds for denying Communion. The archbishop, a former canon law professor, said he thinks the law clearly precludes Communion for someone who, having been admonished, persists in publicly sinning in a serious way.

"One of the problems I have is bishops who say to me, 'Well, this is unheard of in the church's practice.' Actually it goes back to St. Paul in the (First) Letter to the Corinthians, when he says: The person who eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ unworthily eats and drinks condemnation unto himself," he said.

"There are a whole list of instances you can give historically where the church refused holy Communion to individuals. ... To me there has to be a clarity with regard to that discipline. And I trust it will come forward," he said.

Archbishop Burke said the U.S. election results should remind people that the separation of church and state "doesn't at all mean that religious faith should not have an impact on the way we vote and how we try to promote the good of our nation."

He said the U.S. Founding Fathers, while rejecting a state religion, emphasized the right to freely exercise one's religion, so that citizens will be "God-fearing and serve their nation well."

Pro-life and family issues helped rekindle that awareness in the November election, he said.

"I think people really had a wake-up call with the sudden push for legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriage," he said. "But the life issues, of course, are the most fundamental."


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