Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Do the media hate Cardinal Burke—or the faith he represents?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 17, 2021

The reprehensible attacks on Cardinal Raymond Burke in the mainstream media—the unseemly delight with which the liberal pundits have pounced on the news of his illness—should make any fair-minded observer wince. You don’t have to be a traditional Catholic to realize that when a man’s life is in danger, ordinary civility requires at least a temporary suspension of polemics. You don’t have to be a moral theologian to appreciate the merit of the adage: You don’t kick a man when he’s down.

But instead of expressing sympathy for the cardinal’s plight—much less joining in his appeal for prayers—media reports are highlighting his opposition to the Covid lockdown, and suggesting (inaccurately) that he denied the severity of the disease. There is more than a hint, in many of these reports, that the cardinal is now experiencing a condign punishment for his rejection of popular opinion.

Why is Cardinal Burke so unpopular with these reporters? Why are his views so repugnant to them, that they can scarcely conceal their delight over his present suffering?

  • Is it because he questioned the draconian lockdown, and suggested that some powerful forces are manipulating the situation to their own advantage? Many others had made the same arguments—not without supporting evidence.
  • Is it because he criticized the rush to develop vaccines using tissue lines derived from abortion? Again many others had made the same criticism, in this case with irrefutable evidence.
  • Is it because he decried the closing of churches, and the presumption that religious worship is not an “essential” activity? Here too he had plenty of company, but I think we are drawing closer to the truth.
  • Or is it simply because Cardinal Burke adamantly defends the moral teachings of the Church—because he has become the leading exemplar of Catholic resistance against the overweening pressures of secular liberalism?

In short, is Cardinal Burke the object of such contempt because he will not tailor his Catholic beliefs to contemporary fashions?

Cardinal Burke certainly understood that he, like millions of others, was at risk of contracting the virus. He knew the dangers. But he weighed those dangers against the demands of his faith, and concluded that he could not compromise his principles. Are there no secular journalists willing to honor a man who stood by his convictions—even if they do not share those convictions themselves?

Many reports suggest that the cardinal contracted the virus because he failed to take ordinary precautions. (Actually it seems more likely that he become infected while visiting family and friends: an innocuous activity that even the strictest guidelines do not forbid.) In the past liberal commentators have carefully avoided scolding victims for exposing themselves to disease by their unhealthy behavior. But clearly this is a special case. Why?

One particularly odious report, from NBC News, charged that the cardinal had “repeated misinformation related to conspiracy theories about the vaccines.” The article pointed to a few controversial statements—which involved differences of opinion rather than “misinformation”—and then offered this revealing tidbit:

He has also said the best weapon for battling “the evil of the coronavirus” is a relationship with Jesus, according to Associated Press.

Where is the “misinformation” there? Where is the conspiracy theory? Why is the phrase “the evil of the coronavirus” in scare quotes? Does the NBC reporter deny that this disease is an evil? Or is the paragraph simply a way to convey, to a smug secularized readership, that Cardinal Burke holds an old-fashioned belief in the power of Jesus Christ—not just as an abstraction but as a practical antidote to worldly ills? Is that what most offends liberal sensibilities?

If so, then I hope I stand under the same condemnation that the media have heaped on Cardinal Burke. Because I believe that it is, mutatis mutandis, the same condemnation that the worldly leaders of another era heaped on Jesus for rejecting the wisdom of that age.

Martyrs die in odium fidei. But it is also possible to live surrounded by hatred for the faith. I pray that the Lord will spare the life of Cardinal Burke, who has already embraced that form of white martyrdom.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Aug. 19, 2021 6:07 PM ET USA

    christosvoskresye, come on. There are plenty of conspiracy theories accepted by substantial numbers of people that are patently ridiculous, from the idea that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from the basement of a Washington, DC pizza joint, to the idea that Bill Gates is using the vaccines to inject tracking devices into everyone. People who believe such things are rightly ridiculed and pitied, and believing such things is destructive both to the person and to society.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Aug. 18, 2021 10:08 PM ET USA

    As for the main question -- well, what do you expect? NBC showed their true colors years ago. We have to stop pretending the media today are like they were during the Eisenhower administration or even the Reagan administration. If we pay any attention to them at all, it should be with the same doubting attitude that GI's once listed to Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally: they may be entertaining, and they may give nuggets of truth, but they do not have our interests at heart.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Aug. 18, 2021 10:02 PM ET USA

    It's not hard to find real examples of conspiracies, contrary to what the phrase "conspiracy theory" implies. It is in fact so easy that the only actual use of the phrase is as a slur, not a description; we are expected to react with smug superiority (which is all too easily aroused on all sides of the political spectrum these days) rather than actually THINK. The fact that there are really stupid and dangerous ideas does not change the fact that the point of the phrase is to censor thought.

  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 18, 2021 4:15 AM ET USA

    Cardinal Burke has been the voice - sometimes the only voice - of conscience and reason for the Church in the midst of confusion of the current papacy. Recovery will give him natural immunity.

  • Posted by: frjt - Aug. 17, 2021 6:48 PM ET USA

    May the mercy of God be with the detractors... They need it more than does the Cardinal...

  • Posted by: marynadononeill1042 - Aug. 17, 2021 6:41 PM ET USA

    Thank you for saying this. It needs saying!

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Aug. 17, 2021 3:32 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Burke is an intelligent man who no doubt understood that given his age and weight, he was at high risk for a severe case of Covid, and that vaccination could protect him from that. He chose not to get vaccinated. Given the extremely small and not ongoing connection to abortion of the mRNA vaccines, I disagree with his choice, but it was his to make. The secular hit pieces in the Washington Post and elsewhere are despicable. I pray for his recovery.