Archbishop Raymond Burke Goes to Rome

By Kenneth L. Parker
The University News

July 23, 2008

Looking to the future of St. Louis archdiocesan politics

Like many faithful Catholics in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, I wish Arch-bishop Ray-mond Burke well as he prepares to take up his duties at the Vatican and assume a role for which he is eminently qualified. This is no doubt a great honor for him and the pinnacle of a canon lawyer's vocational aspirations. His emotional farewell address-clearly heartfelt-was received by a gathering of Catholics who shared a profound regard for the work he did in the archdiocese over the last four years and five months.

Indeed, he has been a great pastor for a portion of the flock in this archdiocese. He has provided clear and decisive judgments on thorny matters. This has pleased some. For those who long for pre-Vatican II liturgy, he created intentional parishes and has brought in religious communities devoted to that purpose. Anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research advocates have found him an unwavering leader. Those who have had the privilege to meet Burke have found him personable, quiet and humble.

Yet other portions of his flock have expressed, in various media, relief at his departure and rehearsed well-known examples of decisions and confrontations that cast the archbishop in a negative light. He has been perceived by these Catholics as lacking pastoral sensitivity, caring more about canon law than people and refusing to engage with those who do not share his vision of the Catholic faith and its traditions.

As a faithful Catholic who loves his Church and prays for those who lead us, I prefer to look to the future and not to dwell on specific issues in the past. Christian hope compels me to reflect on the leadership that we need and desire as we look to our future.

"Catholic" is derived from a Greek term that combines words meaning "according to" and "whole." We need an archbishop who recognizes that he is the pastor of the whole flock, not just the portion that shares his own spiritual priorities.

We are a Church where many spiritualities have historically functioned side by side, enriching our understanding and practice of the faith. Uniformity is not the mission of our Church. We need a man who can engage this diversity.

I hope that our new archbishop will have a consistent pro-life agenda. It is not enough to be anti-abortion. I long for an archbishop who speaks and acts decisively on the care of children born into privation and who lack adequate care, on Catholic education in our inner city, on the needs of those with physical and mental disabilities, on wars of choice, on end of life care and on capital punishment.

I hope for archiepiscopal leadership that will engage Catholic politicians and listen to the challenges they face. I imagine an archbishop who has the courage to have dinner with (even say private masses for) these politicians, in order to nurture their respect for and connection with our shared faith.

I hope for a man who comprehends the pain of a flock that has been wounded by wave after wave of revelations that bishops-our bishops-have conspired in the concealment of the sexual abuse of our children; a leader who understands, in this context, the genuine concern over hierarchical decisions that affect parish property and resources. I pray that the next archbishop will not make our archdiocese notorious as a haven for priests who have faced sexual-abuse charges elsewhere.

I hope for a godly man, who appreciates and celebrates the pastoral roles played by women and lay men in the absence of clergy. May he be a churchman who feels compelled to press for the means to provide the faithful with an abundance of ordained persons who can administer the sacraments we require for our salvation and sanctification.

I hope, above all, for an archbishop who will engage his whole flock, who will not be afraid to listen to voices that are not in harmony with his own. May he value the Catholic educational institutions in his jurisdiction and engage them as partners in building the kingdom of God.

Listening to us all will deepen his understanding of us, and cultivate in the whole flock respect and admiration for our spiritual shepherd.

These are my hopes. This is my prayer. I wait with expectation.

Kenneth L. Parker, Ph.D., is an associate professor of theology in the College of Arts and Sciences.


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