Catholic Church officials are disputing what Time magazine described as a "feud" between two U.S. bishops over approaches to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. And the leader of one Catholic group dismissed the article as the work of an "anti-Catholic partisan Democrat."
The article in Time's Nov. 8 issue contended that Archbishop Raymond Burke at the Vatican and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, were involved in a spat because O'Malley presided at the funeral of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a strong abortion supporter.
Burke, well known for arguing that priests should deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, made clear his objections to O’Malley's even allowing a Catholic funeral for Kennedy, who died in August. Burke, who was archbishop of St. Louis until 2008, heads the Vatican-based Apostolic Signatura, the church’s equivalent of a Supreme Court.
Time reported that Burke said O'Malley's participation in the Mass put him under the influence of Satan. In response, the article quoted O’Malley as saying that the church "will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief."
Time ascribed to Burke a view that a Catholic's position on abortion trumps all other teachings, which prompted clashes with O'Malley and others’ “more holistic view.” The dispute surfaced tensions among bishops on how to deal with Catholic politicians who support abortion, an issue the magazine article interpreted as a litmus test on what it means to be Catholic, the article said.
The article predicted that the dispute is likely to heat up during the U.S. bishops' annual general meeting this month.
But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops are not divided on the abortion issue, although every bishop “has to do what he believes is the most pastorally responsible thing to do for his diocese."
Asked whether this case involves how to handle the issue of Catholic politicians who support abortion rather than anything deeper, Walsh replied: “Absolutely.”
Such differences are common among bishops, but they are handled in a gentlemanly way, and this issue is not expected to dominate the bishops' annual meeting, sources say.
Kennedy’s Aug. 30 funeral Mass caused a lively debate among Catholics. Many opposed the presence of the cardinal and other prelates, while others preferred to deny the former senator a Catholic funeral altogether.
Critics of the Time article do not deny the differences in approach but stress there is no change to the church’s teaching.
“It is a serious mistake to think that dogmatic Catholic teaching depends on personal opinions, characteristics and political leanings,” said Kishore Jayabalan, Rome director of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a think tank. “While the approach taken by bishops on how to discipline and correct so-called pro-choice Catholics may differ, there is no doubt that the church forbids abortion as a matter of social justice.”
Jayabalan added: “It is not a matter of determining who is a Catholic and who is not. Any Catholic politician who supports abortion rights is in grave violation of church teaching.”
But he welcomed Burke’s robust and clear stance on pro-life issues. “Unfortunately, far too many politicians and voters — regardless of religious affiliation — do not seem to understand what an injustice abortion really is,” he said. “By taking church teaching so seriously, Archbishop Burke is providing us with some much-needed moral clarity.”
Others saw the article, which Time correspondent Amy Sullivan wrote, not only as an attempt to put an artificial wedge between two bishops but also as a personal attack on Burke. Widely respected among pro-life Catholics for his defense of all human life, Burke is described as a “bull in a China shop” in the article, and made to appear unpopular among some colleagues at the Vatican who, the article says, would like to “silence” him.
In an attempt to contrast the standing the two prelates have within the Vatican, Sullivan's article pointed out that O'Malley was named a member 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.” But she omitted to mention that Burke was appointed last month to the much more influential Vatican Congregation for Bishops, responsible for selecting the church’s leaders worldwide. In the coming years, the position is likely to give him far greater influence over running the American church than most other U.S. bishops.
Critics also say the article’s author misrepresented Burke’s character when she claims that O’Malley, “a shy man who dislikes celebrity and shuns politics,” is the opposite of Burke. Those who know Burke would attest to his being just as reserved and retiring.
“Amy Sullivan is a well known anti-Catholic partisan Democrat,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. “She is keen to set up what is a phony fight between two great men of the church.”
Ruse added: “I suspect O’Malley and Burke would scoff at her notion that they are at war. Time magazine and other political liberals are keen to bloody the church and good men like Burke.”
Ruse also said the article tried to portray O’Malley as lenient over the issue of abortion, whereas the opposite is true. “It is rather funny they are using O’Malley as the club to beat Burke,” he said. “O’Malley is just as guilty as Burke in upholding church teachings that Sullivan and Time find so repugnant — any club to beat the church."
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