Archbp. Burke on Kathleen Sabelius

This is on the website of Catholic Action for Faith and Family:

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke Discusses the Canonical and pastoral Aspects of Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s Public Reprimand of Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Her Nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services 

Some emphases in the original (questions).

        “As a Roman Catholic, her appointment is the source of the greatest embarrassment because she has publicly and repeatedly betrayed her Catholic faith…”

                                               Archbishop Raymond L. Burke

Catholic Action for Faith and Family

March 10, 2009

Interviewed by Thomas J. McKenna

Your Excellency:

The Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, has a long history of supporting abortion rights while holding public office. As a result of her actions, last year the Archbishop of Kansas City, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, publicly requested that she refrain from receiving Holy Communion because of public scandal she was giving. As her bishop he first carried out a prolonged dialogue with her over many months where he tried to reason with her and make her aware of the seriousness of her actions supporting abortion.

Last week President Obama nominated Governor Sebelius to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Archbishop Naumann, as well as many prominent Pro-life organizations across the country, is decrying the appointment as being detrimental to the Catholic and Pro-life causes in the United States.

Is Your Excellency aware of this controversy?

Yes, I am quite aware of the case of Governor Sebelius. She is well known for her support of the right to procured abortion and for her public association with some of the more notorious agents of the culture of death. She has also favored other anti-life legislation, especially legislation which denies the right to life to the innocent and defenseless unborn.

What is your opinion of her appointment to this influential position?

Her appointment saddens me on several scores. First of all, it is sad for our nation to have a person who favors the right to kill the unborn in the womb placed in charge of the federal office with responsibility for health and human services. No matter how good Governor Sebelius’ record regarding other human life concerns may be, if she is not committed to the safeguarding of human life from its very inception, she should not be entrusted with the questions of health and human services for our nation.

As a Roman Catholic, her appointment is the source of the greatest embarrassment because she has publicly and repeatedly betrayed her Catholic faith, in the most fundamental tenet in the most fundamental tenet of the moral law, that is, the law to safeguard and foster human life from the moment of its inception to the moment of natural death. What is more, she has obstinately remained in her moral error after being admonished by, at least, three of her Bishops, including her present Bishop, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas. Her position on the question of procured abortion is the source of the greatest scandal to Catholics and to all who uphold the natural moral law. 

In your opinion did Archbishop Naumann proceed in accordance with canon law?

Archbishop Naumann proceeded in perfect accord with Canon Law and the sound pastoral practice it embodies. He steadfastly tried to help Governor Sebelius recognize her grave error and to correct herself. When she refused to do so, he had no choice but to remind her that the Church’s discipline requires that persons who publicly and obstinately remain in serious sin must be denied Holy Communion. When the Governor did not respect the Archbishop’s instruction that she not present herself to receive Holy Communion, he was obliged to make it public that the Governor had been instructed not to present herself to receive Holy Communion. Archbishop Naumann acted with exemplary pastoral charity in the matter, protecting the Body and Blood of Christ from unworthy reception, preventing the Governor from the commission of the most serious sin of sacrilege, and ending the great scandal caused by the Governor’s unworthy reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.  

Under these circumstances was he justified in asking her to refrain from receiving Holy Communion and do you believe this was a pastoral approach?

Not only was Archbishop Naumann justified, he was fulfilling one of his most solemn duties as a pastor, namely, the care of the Most Blessed Sacrament and of the worthy reception of Holy Communion. As I mentioned above, his action, in my judgment, could not have been more pastorally correct. He has spoken the truth with love. More than that cannot be asked of any shepherd of the flock.

If Governor Sebelius was to be confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary and move to Washington D. C., would the Archbishop of Washington or any surrounding diocese where she might take up residency, be obliged to enforce in their diocese the sanction imposed by her bishop in Kansas?

To be accurate, Archbishop Naumann did not impose a sanction upon Governor Sebelius. He simply made clear her canonical status in regards to reception of Holy Communion anywhere.  No Catholic who publicly and obstinately remains in serious sin can receive Holy Communion.  For her sake and for the sake of the Church, Archbishop Naumann made clear that Governor Sebelius is in the condition of unworthiness to receive Holy Communion, until she reforms her public actions regarding procured abortion.

As I said above, Archbishop Naumann only did what was his duty as Bishop. Every Bishop is held to the same universal Church discipline which has been in force since the time of Saint Paul the Apostle and is stated in canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.  Whether Governor Sebelius is in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, or in any other diocese, she should not present herself for Holy Communion because, after pastoral admonition, she obstinately persists in serious sin.

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  1. John Enright says:

    You really have to love Archbishop Burke! He doesn’t mince words, and he speaks the truth.

  2. Ken says:

    Good for Archbishop Burke. Same with Archbishop Naumann.

    Sadly, though, we’re about three to four Sundays away from, at worst, Archbishop Wuerl personally giving her Communion in Washington, D.C., or at best, turning a blind eye toward his priests doing so.

  3. little gal says:

    Re: politicians and support of abortion rights. I sent emails to all of my legislative representatives to oppose FOCA and Uphold Pro-Life Policies via the USCCB website. I received an email today from Sen. Durbin. He is also Catholic:

    Dear Ms.________:

    Thank you for contacting me about the Freedom of Choice Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

    The Freedom of Choice Act was introduced in the 110th Congress. It would have prohibited governments from denying or interfering with any woman’s right to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. The measure also would have prohibited governments from discriminating against the exercise of these rights in the provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.

    I understand your concern about the conscience rights of providers and others who might be affected by the Freedom of Choice Act. I will keep your views in mind in case the Freedom of Choice Act is reintroduced in the 111th Congress.

    I believe we can respect the rights established under Roe v. Wade and still work to reduce the number of abortions in America. Abortion should be safe and legal, consistent with Roe v. Wade. It is a decision best left to a woman, her family, her doctor, and her conscience. Late-term abortions, including so-called partial birth abortions, should be strictly limited to cases where the life of the mother is in danger or she faces a medically certified risk of grievous physical injury.

    We should encourage abstinence among our youth and support family planning to avoid unintended pregnancies that may lead to abortion. If a woman is confronted with an unintended pregnancy, we should work to ensure that motherhood and adoption are realistic options. I support programs that provide assistance to pregnant women to help them face the costs of continuing a pregnancy. In addition, we should support pregnant women by working to address underlying concerns such as affordable health care, wages, child care, and education that may make it harder for a couple to welcome a child. I also favor tax breaks to help families afford adoptions, and I have cosponsored legislation, subsequently enacted into law, that extended and increased the tax credit for adoption expenses.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me. Please feel free to stay in touch.


    Richard J. Durbin

    United States Senator



  4. czemike says:

    Why is Gov. Sebelius not yet censured or excommunicated?

  5. meg says:

    I love the idea of disciplining these people. But the bishops must depend on the individual choosing to bend to the discipline, otherwise she could walk into any church where her face isn’t known and receive anyway. How does this work other than theoretically?

    And isn’t she compromising her soul even more with an act of defiance such as this? She certainly would receive no grace from the Holy Eucharist. Perhaps to her it’s only a symbolic thing anyway. One wonders.

    My guess is right now she’s getting more fan mail than ever encouraging her to hang tough and fight the good fight.

  6. ssoldie says:

    We don’t use the word censured or excommunicate, so what do we do when those who go against the teachings (dogmas) of the faith? Just let them know they are in the wrong, but in thier arrogrance, they will march up at Mass (when they go) and be guilty of the ‘body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The whole democratic party is quite full of cafeteria catholics. It certainly is a far cry from what it use to be.

  7. Rancher says:

    So is it not the duty of the Church if she defies the instruction she has been given and presents herself for Communion to then excommunicate her and make that very public. Then if she continues to present herself for Communion is it not the duty of the Minister to deny her?

  8. Merriweather says:

    I’m not holding my breath for +wavy-spine-Wuerl to do anything about it. We already know what he thinks about denying Communion.

    That woman had a party at the governors mansion for none other than *Tiller-the-Killer* but that’s no problem in the diocese of “I’m-OK-You’re-OK”



  9. Ian says:

    I agree with the path that Archbishop Naumann followed here. He informed the Governor of her error and tried to help her understand it. When she refused to change her positions, he informed her privately that until she did amend her positions, she was not to receive Communion. She violated this private request, so the bishop made the matter public.

    Where I am confused is why after all of this, the Archbishop merely left it as public notice that the Governor was asked not to present herself for Communion. A formal Interdict would have not only solved the matter and made clear that there were penalties for such stubborn refusal, but it would have made it mandatory for all priests to refuse the Governor any sacraments except Penance and Viaticum, until she publicly repented.

    Why are we legalistic when it comes to matter like the SSPX, but when it comes to matters where the Blessed Sacrament is being profaned, we ignore the legal remedies and merely ask nicely?

  10. @ Ian

    Different canon. Sebelius falls under 915.

  11. Ian says:

    Davide Altere,

    I know that this is the technical canon that the Governor has violated. Canon 915 also mentions the Interdict and Interdict is the logical extension of not only those who persist in grave public sin, but who spurn the bishops and priests who try to pastorally help them to stop. If we must prohibit these politicians from receiving Communion because of the grave sin and sacrilege involved, then they must also be prohibited from receiving any other sacrament except penance for the same reason. For a public sinner to be Married, receive Confirmation or to be allowed to receive Holy Orders as well as Communion is a grave sacrilege and profanation of the sacrament.

    Interdict is the logical declared penalty for this situation. It makes a clear declaration, which is legally binding as a ferendae sententiae decree which not only puts priests on notice that they are not to give the Governor Communion, but it would legally prohibit them from administering Communion except in the case that she was in danger of death.

    That’s my concern. Indeed, legally Canon 915 does not say that a grave sinner is or must be interdicted, but there is no good reason to publicly announce that you’ve kindly asked someone to stop receiving Communion, hoping that they stop, or priests stop giving it, when you have the power to absolutely prevent the person from continuing to commit sacrilege.

    As I implied above, pastoral and soft steps are needed to try to pull people back without grave penalties like interdict, but if those fail then the harsh penalties come out. The SSPX situation in 1988 was a perfect example. If we are going to declare excommunications against bishops for this, then it is only consistent to declare penalties against prominent grave public sinners who after pastoral effort refuse to stop their sin and Communion.

    I’m not condemning the bishop. I am very much appreciative that he did more than most bishops would do, I just wonder why not the next step, which would have had more certain effects.

  12. Patrick says:


    Right on.

    I hope that very soon a bishop will be brave enough to put one of these scandalous politicians under interdict. Should that happen, more will follow and the message may eventually become clear for many many American Catholics. It will force Catholics to truly consider whether they want to be Catholics or not.

  13. irishgirl says:

    Ian @ 7:03-Right on! What you said!

  14. I read a lot about how the Archbishop of Washington should do or say something to the Governor, but I read very little about the very thing that would give him direct authority, namely that of domicile. There are various levels of this in canon law, which I should think would determine his role. Can anyone with a canon law background shed some light on this?

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