Priest, Prophet, King
by Thomas A. Droleskey
A bishop has the fullness of the sacramental, hierarchical priesthood Our Lord established at the Last Supper. He has the duty as a priest to supervise the sanctification of the flock entrusted to his care. He has the duty to proclaim as a prophet everything contained in the Deposit of Faith without any exception or reservation. He has the duty as a king to govern his flock, sometimes with great firmness.
The exercise of a bishop's plenipotentiary powers as a king entrusted with the governance of his flock is matter of great gravity. Although those powers have been misused in the past thirty-five years or so to unjustly discipline traditional and otherwise orthodox priests and religious and members of the laity while those who profane the Sacred Liturgy and who put into question or deny articles contained in the Deposit of Faith are promoted and rewarded, a just bishop exercises his plenipotentiary powers as the chief shepherd of his flock judiciously. He gives fair warning to a sheep about to be disciplined. He waits for the sheep to respond. Only as a last and most regrettable resort does he use his shepherd's crook to strike the recalcitrant, rebellious members of his flock who give public scandal by promoting grave evils, such as contraception, abortion, sodomy, and euthanasia, to name just a few. The failure of most of the bishops of the United States to even warn pro-abortion politicians of the evil that they do in their public lives has simply emboldened new generation of Catholic vipers to rise to power in both major political parties in this country.
Bishop Raymond Leo Burke, who will be installed later this month as the Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, has issued an edict that instructs all of the priests of the Diocese of La Cross, Wisconsin, that they are to cease administering Holy Communion to pro-abortion public officials, whether they serve in the state or national governments. These politicians must continue to be denied Holy Communion, says Bishop Burke, until they have publicly renounced their pro-abortion position. This is an example of a bishop acting firmly in his role as the king of his flock. Although Bishop Burke has not formally excommunicated these politicians, the denial of Holy Communion is one of the chief consequences of such formal excommunication. As it is likely that he will issue the same edict in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, time will tell whether he will give offending Catholic politicians an opportunity to repent before issuing a formal decree of excommunication.
Bishop Burke's action is without precedent in this country. Former New York Governor Hugh L. Carey admitted in 1990 that the late Terence Cardinal Cooke privately banned him from the reception of Holy Communion because of his support for abortion and because of his invalid marriage to a twice divorced Greek Orthodox woman, Evangeline Gouletas. Monsignor Michael Wrenn told me in 1997 that a parishioner of his named Mario Matthew Cuomo at St. John the Evangelist Church on East 55th Street in Manhattan attended Mass every Sunday but did not approach for Holy Communion, an indication that the late John Cardinal O'Connor had privately disciplined the arrogant supporter of "abortion rights" who was Carey's successor as Governor of New York from 1983-1995. The Most Reverend William Weigand, the Bishop of Sacramento, California, warned then (and now former) California Governor Gray Davis in January of 2003 that he should refrain from the reception of Holy Communion because of his pro-abortion stance. And it should be noted that the Most Reverend John Myers, then the Bishop of Peoria, used a 1991 pastoral letter to urge pro-abortion politicians from receiving Holy Communion. What Bishop Burke has done, however, is indeed without precedent and it is to be commended.
Bishop Burke took the action he did in his capacity as king for several reasons.
First, Bishop Burke has an obligation to prevent the sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion. This is an obligation he has both as a priest and as a king.
Second, he had an obligation to help save the soul of the pro-abortion Catholic politician. Admonishing the sinner is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. While this spiritual work of mercy obliges each of us, a bishop has a special obligation to admonish public sinners such as pro-abortion Catholics.
Third, he has an obligation as a bishop to stop scandal being given to the faithful. It is scandalous for one who supports unrepentantly one of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance to receive Holy Communion, no less serve as a lector or as an extraordinary minister or as a member of a "sexual abuse advisory panel," as in the case of former Clinton White House Chief of Staff (and former member of the United States House of Representatives) Leon Panetta, who is a Catholic in good standing in Bishop Sylvester Ryan's Diocese of Monterey, California.
Fourth, Bishop Burke has an obligation to try to discourage others from following the example of pro-abortion politicians who are considered to be Catholics in good standing. It is precisely because nothing has been done or said publicly to chastise the likes Cuomo or Davis or Edward Moore Kennedy or Joseph Biden or Barbara Mikulski or Richard Durbin or Tom Harkin or Thomas Daschle or other Catholic Democrats in public life that Republican Catholics such as Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki and Rick Lazio and Susan Collins and Tom Ridge have been emboldened to defend the execution of the innocent unborn under cover of law as a "constitutional" right.
Catholics rightly complain when bishops either misuse their governing authority to discipline the wrong people and/or fail to discipline those who are truly deserving of warnings and punishments. We thus have an obligation to commend a bishop when he exercises his duties as the king of his flock with firmness. It will be very difficult, although not impossible, I realize, for Bishop Burke's eventual successor to reverse the edict announced on January 8, 2004.
None of us is perfect. Each of us suffers from the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin and each one of our own actual sins, which is why, as one of the prayers in the Miraculous Medal Novena states, we must recover by penance what we have lost by sin. No bishop, including Bishop Burke, is thus perfect and free from errors of judgment. Bishop Burke has been, however, a friend to the Traditional Latin Mass and a friend to the innocent unborn. His action of January 8, 2004, deserves our praise and our thanks.
St. Louis IX, King of France, pray for the Archbishop-designate of St. Louis, the Most Reverend Raymond Leo Burke.