Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, the new 'John Fisher'

by Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.D., Barbara Kralis


An interview with Archbishop Raymond Burke in which he expresses his disappointment that he Cardinal McCarrick did not tell the USCCB about Cardinal Ratzinger's memo and directives regarding unworthy reception of Communion.

Publisher & Date

Catholic Online, August 5, 2004

Recently, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, Bishop, D. D., J.C.L., of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, ‘the new John Fisher for our times,’[i] granted this writer and Catholic Online an exclusive interview.

You may remember that on January 8, 2004, Burke, then Bishop of the La Crosse diocese, promulgated a ‘canonical notification’ based on Canon Law 915. [ii]

In other words, Bishop Burke, a doctor of canon law, [iii]imposed sacramental disciplines or regulations concerning the unworthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.

He did not need a filibustering ‘Bishops’ Task Force on the doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life’ to decide for him how to admonish the manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners. Archbishop Burke knew he must stop the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist and the scandal to his faithful flock.

When the diocesan bishops ignore enforcing Canon Law, they are giving license to all manifest sinners to commit Eucharistic sacrilege and cause grave scandal to the faithful. [iv]

Granting this interview while away on ‘vacation,’ Archbishop Burke very kindly answered six questions.

These questions addressed the confusion and misinformation caused by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and USCCB President Bishop Gregory during the June 2004 USCCB meeting in Denver.

In particular, these six questions were asked Archbishop Burke regarding a memorandum addressed to Cardinal McCarrick, chair of the USCCB’s ‘Task Force’ committee by Cardinal Ratzinger and to Bishop Gregory.

It is well for us to remember that in his memorandum entitled ‘Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion – General Principles,’ Cardinal Ratzinger said without ambiguity:

“The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it”[v] when warning and counsel given to the manifest sinner “have not had their effect.”

Question: Dear Archbishop Burke, regarding Cardinal Ratzinger’s June 2004 memorandum, were the contents of the memo made known to you and the other bishops at the Denver meeting?

Archbishop Burke: “It certainly was not made known to me and I do not believe it was given to the other bishops. Cardinal McCarrick referred to the memorandum. We were told that, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, the application of the Canon 915 was up to the prudent judgment of each bishop. The text of the memorandum would have been very helpful at the meeting in Denver. Knowing now about the memo, I am disappointed it was not given to us at the meeting of the Bishops’ Conference,” said Archbishop Burke.

Question: The Bishops’ Denver Statement reads:

“Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action.”

Does this mean that one Bishop can deny Senator John Kerry Holy Communion and another Bishop can give Kerry Communion and both Bishops are correct?

Archbishop Burke: “No, in fact, Canon 915 must be applied. It does not give an option. Canon 915 says that those persons who obstinately persist in grave manifest sin must be denied the Eucharist. I strongly believe that if a bishop has spoken to someone who obstinately persists in grave manifest sin and he still presents himself for Holy Communion, he should be refused.”

Question: Cardinal McCarrick received a letter dated July 9, 2004, from Cardinal Ratzinger saying:

“The ‘Statement’ is very much in harmony with the memorandum’s general principles, ‘Worthiness to receive Holy Communion,’ sent as a fraternal service – to clarify the doctrine of the Church on this specific issue – in order to assist the American Bishops in their related discussion and determinations.”

Is it your understanding that Cardinal Ratzinger agreed that some ‘ministers of Holy Communion’ should admit John Kerry and that some should not admit him?

Archbishop Burke: “That is not my understanding.” [vi]

Question: In the Denver Statement, the fifth paragraph reads:

“Our obligation as bishops at this time is to teach clearly.”

Can one bishop admit and another bishop not admit? Is this teaching clearly? Is it not a contradiction of Canon 915, for one bishop to refuse John Kerry the Eucharist in one diocese and for another bishop to give John Kerry the Eucharist in another diocese?

Archbishop Burke: “Yes, it would be a source of confusion. I have refused to talk about individual candidates, but when a ‘Catholic’ pro-abortion politician knows the actions he has taken are gravely sinful in a public matter like supporting abortion, the only way to uphold church teaching is to withhold Holy Communion. It is not right for one ‘minister of Holy Communion’ to give the Eucharist and another not to.”

Question: Is it your understanding that the ‘Task Force’s’ work is completed. Cardinal Ratzinger’s July 9 letter assumed that the ‘Task Force’ has not decided yet.[vii]

Archbishop Burke: “I understood from the meeting that the work of the ‘Task Force’ was not completed and we would be given another report at our November 2004 meeting. I do not know if there will be another vote. Normally there is a vote to accept and not to accept.”

Question: What can you tell us now about the ‘Note Bene’ statement of Cardinal Ratzinger’s at the end of his June memorandum? In it, he states that ‘proportionalism’ or voting for ‘the lesser of two evils’ is acceptable. Do you think it is possible to end abortion by always voting for the lesser evil candidate? How would this apply to Pope Paul VI who stated?

“Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it [viii]—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.” [ix]

Archbishop Burke: “It is clear that the Catholic voter has to be opposed to procured abortion. Anybody who votes for a candidate who supports or favors procured abortion because the candidate favors procured abortion cooperates in evil.[x]

“A host of considerations enter in the decision to vote for a particular candidate. The voter must be opposed to procured abortion and do everything as a voter to decrease the evil of abortion and eliminate it.

“If the Catholic voter votes for a candidate who is in favor of procured abortion, while the voter is clearly opposed to it, there must be some serious reason to justify such a vote.

“As Cardinal Ratzinger said, in his June memorandum, such a vote is ‘remote material cooperation,’ which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

His position is not proportionalism, for the voter remains steadfastly opposed to procured abortion and works to eliminate abortion in society and its protection by the law.”

Question: Thank you very much for granting this interview.

Archbishop Burke: You are welcome, and please pray for me.

It is important to note that not only does the canonical discipline Canon .915 include the estimated 500 so-called ‘Catholic’ pro-abortion politicians (Democrat as well as Republican) in the U.S., but it also includes other manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners.

A short list of such sinners would include homosexual couples approaching the Eucharist arm-in-arm or with sodomite, rainbow banners over their shoulders, as well as those divorced and ‘remarried’ without benefit of annulment. [xi]

Also, included would be employees of abortion mills and Planned Parenthood, Mafia figures, drug lords, notorious criminals, couples living openly in fornication or adultery (this is certainly not an exhaustive list of manifest sinners).

Earlier, Archbishop Burke said, “So serious is the moral obligation to avoid scandal that we are admonished not only not to do wrong but also not to appear to do wrong. When a person acts, he or she must always consider the appearance of the act to be done.” [xii]

“For a bishop or any pastor to exclude someone from Communion is always a source of great sorrow. The sorrow is caused by the care that a pastor naturally has for a soul who rejects the teaching of Christ and his church.

“What would be profoundly more sorrowful would be the failure of a bishop to call a soul to conversion, the failure to protect the flock from scandal and the failure to safeguard the worthy reception of Communion.” [xiii]

In late 2002, a Vatican office issued a paper on “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” which quoted Pope John Paul II as saying lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that “attacks human life.”

Bishop Bruskewitz’s Vicar General, Monsignor Timothy J. Thorburn, J.C.L., said it is best to err on the side of reverence of the Eucharist:

“If I had denied Holy Communion to someone who is known to be manifest, persistent, and obstinate in his sin and he later demonstrates that he had, in fact, publicly denied his promotion of, say, abortion, I then would publicly apologize to him.”

If anyone is keeping score, and I am, the tally goes as thus for denying manifest, obstinate, persistent persons in grave sin: Six diocesan heads for denying the Eucharist, 189 diocesan heads against denying.

The six good men are: Burke (St. Louis), Bruskewitz (Lincoln), Vasa (Baker), Donohue (Atlanta), Baker (Charleston), and Jugis (Charlotte).

Other bishops have strongly warned manifest sinners, but have refused to declare they would deny nor have they issued diocesan wide discipline. New Jersey bishops Galante and Smith have said they would deny their Governor, James E. McGreevey, but have not promulgated diocesan disciplines against other manifest persons.

The Holy Recourse is for each bishop to warn and then counsel the manifest sinners to the healing love of God. Without delay, the bishop should promulgate the diocesan discipline until such time the manifest sinner ‘publicly’ repents of his evil actions, receives the Sacrament of Penance, makes a firm purpose of amendment to his life, and makes reparation for the harm he has done. God is waiting for their return with a loving heart.

© Barbara Kralis 2004 All Rights Reserved

Endnotes:  [i] In 1504, Fisher became Bishop of Rochester, England and Chancellor of Cambridge. From 1527, this humble servant of God actively opposed King Henry VIII’s divorce proceedings against Catherine, his wife in the sight of God, and steadfastly resisted the encroachment of the King on the Catholic Church. Unlike all the other bishops of England, St. John refused to take the evil ‘oath of succession’ which acknowledged the heresy of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as the legitimate heir to the throne. John Fisher was imprisoned in the Tower of London in April 1534. The next year, while imprisoned, Pope Paul III made him a Cardinal. Henry retaliated against the Pope’s action and against Fisher’s faithfulness by having Fisher beheaded within a month.

[ii] Code of Canon Law, c. 915 exhorts: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

[iii] Every bishop must be a doctor of theology or canon law, or at least a licentiate. A doctor is one who has attained the highest academic degree in a given field. The term ‘doctor’ is derived from the Latin ‘docere,’ meaning to teach.

[iv] Congregation for Divine Worship, “Redemptionis Sacramentum,’ n.183.

[v] Cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration ‘Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics”, nos. 3-4, 6/00.

[vi] Bishop Robert Vasa, M.Div., J.C.L., stated in an interview with this writer “If the bishops and Cd. Ratzinger were dealing exclusively with John Kerry, then probably the USCCB ‘Statement’ is not in harmony with Cardinal Ratzinger’s memo.§ion=Featured+Today

[vii] Cardinal Ratzinger said in his letter of July 9, 2004, “It is hoped that this dialogue can continue as the Task Force carries on its important work.” Cf.

[viii] Cf. Rom 3:8

[ix] Pope Paul VI, “Humanae vitae,’ § 2, n. 14

[x] In November 24, 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” which quoted Pope John Paul II as saying lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that “attacks human life,” § II, n.4.

[xi] “Declaration by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts,” June 24, 2000, by Cardinal Julián Herranz, President; Cf. Apostolic Constitution ‘Familiaris consortio,’ the Letter ‘Annus internationalis familiæ,’ ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia,’ and Redemptionis sacramentum,’ for those teachings regarding irregular marriages.

[xii] ‘The Catholic Response to Scandal,’ by Archbishop Raymond Burke, address given at the Milwaukee Wanderer Forum, December 6-7, 2002.

[xiii] Ibid.

Barbara Kralis, the article's author, writes for various Christian and conservative publications. She is a regular columnist at Catholic Online,, Intellectual Conservative, Life Issues, The Wanderer newspaper, Phil Brennan’s WOW, New Oxford Review Magazine, Washington Dispatch, Catholic Citizens, Illinois Leader, NewsBull, MichNews, and others. Her first journalism position was with Boston Herald Traveler, l964. Barbara published and edited 'Semper Fidelis' Catholic print newsletter. She and her husband, Mitch, live in the great State of Texas, and co-direct the Jesus Through Mary Catholic Foundation. She can be reached at: [email protected]

This item 6097 digitally provided courtesy of