Former LA Crosse Bishop Was Destined for Higher Calling, Local Catholics Say

By Geri Parlin
Lacrossee Tribune
October 21, 2010

FILE - St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke is overcome with emotion as he is bid farewell by friends after announcing his appointment to the office of the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura of Rome, in this June 27, 2008 file photo taken in St. Louis. Pope Benedict XVI named 24 new cardinals Wednesday Oct. 20, 2010. The new cardinals include Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Archbishop Raymond Burke, an American who leads a Vatican court and has been sharply critical of the Democratic Party in the United States for its support of abortion rights.

The pope's decision to elevate Raymond Burke to cardinal Wednesday is a landmark moment for La Crosse, as the former bishop is the first from the diocese to reach that level in the church, a local Catholic scholar said.

But it was not a surprise, said the Rev. Bernard McGarty, visiting scholar in ecumenical studies at Viterbo University.

Burke's Vatican post as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura traditionally is held by a cardinal.

"It was just a matter of time ... with that office, it's kind of an automatic," McGarty said.

Archbishop Burke was among 24 new cardinals announced Wednesday by Pope Benedict XVI.

He will be formally installed Nov. 20 in a ceremony called a consistory.

"Isn't that grand," said Bishop William Callahan of the La Crosse Diocese. "I appreciate these moments. It's good news for us. This is one of our own."

Callahan said Burke always seemed to be on this path, from his early studies of canon law to his rapid ascent through the ranks of the Catholic Church.

"It's not surprising. I don't know too many who enjoy the law of the church as much as Cardinal-Designate Burke does," Callahan said.

At age 62, Burke will be among the youngest cardinals and a member of the under 80 group eligible to vote on Benedict's successor.

In a statement Burke sent to the St. Louis archdiocese Wednesday, he said:

"I pledge myself anew to assist Pope Benedict XVI in this critical witness and in the many works of his pastoral charity on behalf of all our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the world. I ask for prayers that I may be able to assist our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the best of my ability and with every ounce of my strength."

His best will be more than good enough, said Eleanor St. John, who has been a member of St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral since 1984, when Burke was a priest at that parish.

"I am just ecstatic. I couldn't be happier for the church. I think it's a very good thing," St. John said.

What La Crosse and the diocese can take the most pride in, Callahan said, are the values that are a part of Burke and of this diocese.

"The values that he learned here, these are the kinds of values that we're trying to bring out and help to establish in all of our people, because they truly are heartland values," Callahan said.

Callahan said Burke, who was born in Richland Center and grew up in the state, has a strong work ethic and comes from hardy stock.

"Those sorts of things are part and parcel to our life here in Wisconsin and definitely part of our life here in the Diocese of La Crosse. He has not lost his farm-boy quality. He's still a kind of modest, shy, quiet man. He has great depth. And a lot of that comes from his homeland. He is seriously a man of prayer and a strong spiritual man."

But not everyone was pleased by Wednesday's announcement.

The Rev. Jim Connell of Sheboygan, Wis., said he found Burke's elevation to cardinal "unfortunate and disconcerting. Actually, I find this promotion to be an affront to survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, the Catholic Church, and society as a whole."

Connell said while Burke was bishop in the La Crosse Diocese, he established a higher level of burden of proof for those who present an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against a priest. "Consequently, children in that diocese could be at risk today."

The Associated Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.


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