The other day I posted that His Excellency Most Rev. Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, spoke in Washington DC.
He said in clear terms that Catholic politicians who publicly commit scandal by promoting immoral policies also contrary to the Church’s teaching should not be given Communion or funerals unless they first will have made public reparation for the damage they did.
Here is Peters, with my emphases and comments.
I doubt Abp. Burke charged "the Church" with erring
While journalists usually have some say over how their writings are edited, even the best reporters tend to have little control over how their articles are headlined. Over the years I’ve cringed at some of the titles pasted atop my work, so I want to avoid assuming David Gibson’s responsibility for the goofy charge that headlines his report of Abp. Raymond Burke’s recent address to guests at InsideCatholic.com’s 14th Annual Partnership Dinner.
The title to Gibson’s article reads "Vatican Official: Church Erred in Holding Kennedy Funeral." Not only did Burke never say "the Church erred" [NB: saying that the "Church" made a mistake is far too broad a claim] in this way or any other (seriously, can anyone imagine Burke making such a reckless claim about the Church?), Gibson’s own article makes no such allegation.
What Burke did say about Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion (and a few other issues gravely at odds with Church teaching) was that "Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians", adding that "To deny these is not a judgment of the soul, but a recognition of the scandal and its effects." [for the umpteenth time, it is about the scandal.] In speaking thus, Burke falls squarely within the bounds of Catholic canon law and orthodoxy, however little companionship he might enjoy there these days.
It was only later, in a line Gibson adequately paraphrased, but which he should have quoted, that Burke said "with greatly sinful acts about fundamental questions like abortion and marriage, [a politician’s] repentance must also be public" adding, "Anyone who grasps the gravity of what he has done will understand the need to make it public." Again, a pastorally sound position, in my opinion. [Exactly. When people commit public scandal, they have the obligation to help to repair the damage done to the best of their ability. Say for example – and I know a case of this – a priest writes a letter in the public secular daily newspaper in a large metropolitan area in which he denounces the Church’s teachings on some matter of faith or morals – say, for example, he denounces the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically sinful – then that priest should be required to recant that denunciation again in the newspaper. He should correct that previous attack in a way proportioned to the way he originally made it. So too, Catholic politicians who have made public statements in favor of abortion, must make public statements in which they declare that they have corrected their position.]
But, from these two utterances, Gibson concludes that Burke "openly oppose(d) the judgment of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley . . . regarding sacraments for Kennedy . . . and (held) that politicians like Kennedy should not be provided a (Catholic) funeral." Now, while Gibson’s characterization of Burke’s statements still doesn’t support a headline claiming that Burke charged the Church with erring, Gibson does claim that Burke disagreed with O’Malley’s decision to accord Kennedy a Catholic funeral. Hmmm. I wonder about even that.
I don’t know whether Burke disagreed with O’Malley’s decision, but Burke’s actual statements here (at least the ones I have access to), when taken at face value, express no such disagreement.
Consider: what Burke actually said was that Catholic politicians who work in open contradiction to Church teaching on certain grave issues are ineligible to participate in the sacraments (like the Eucharist under c. 915) and sacramentals (like funerals under c. 1184). All correct, in my opinion.
But, what Burke did not say was that such politicians, if they give "signs of repentance", should nevertheless be denied a Catholic funeral. (Really, show me where Burke ever said that.) Instead, what Burke said was that, in his opinion, such signs of repentance must be "public". Ah, I see how people are confused.
In speaking as he did, Burke seems to be accepting of the current legislation (and, as far as I can tell, of the unbroken line of interpretation given thereto*) that Catholic funerals can be accorded to public sinners who give "signs of repentance", [NB: Peters was of the opinion that Sen. Kennedy probably did give adequate private signs toward the end of his life and thus a funeral was justified.] but that, in light of the obvious consternation caused in some cases by the current law, Burke wants to see canon law come to require "public signs of repentance" (as opposed to what we witnessed in Kennedy’s case, namely, traditional but "private" signs of repentance, like calling a priest to his deathbed, and so on).
That’s a very different claim, folks.
[Now the scholar of canon law kicks in. This is interesting.] Many people feel that Kennedy’s funeral exposed a weakness in the current canon law on funerals, and that the Code should be amended to require public signs of repentance before funeral rites are accorded public sinners like Kennedy. That’s fine; one can certainly argue that. Even if I think that some such calls have been prompted by the terrible way that Kennedy’s funeral was actually conducted, and that the present law, while not perfect, is better than any proposal I’ve seen to amend it, I grant that questions about how the law ought to read are much better assessed by ecclesiastical leaders like Burke than by little lawyers like me. [A measure of humility there.]
But, in the meantime, I do know how the law reads now, and I know how that law has been consistently interpreted over the centuries, and so I know that the decision to accord Ted Kennedy a Catholic funeral was made in accord with the current canon law on funerals.
And that’s all I’ve ever argued. + + + [Fair enough.]
* "The privation of ecclesiastical burial by this canon [1917 CIC 1240, today 1983 CIC 1184] has the nature of a penalty, and hence is to be strictly interpreted; moreover [NB:] any sign of repentance before death excuses form the penalty; this means some positive sign, such as calling for a priest, kissing a crucifix, an expressed desire not to die without the sacraments. [All of those things are outward gestures people can see and understand.] In doubt the Ordinary is to be consulted, but if the doubt in favor of the deceased remains, the decision should be in his favor." Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law: a Text and Commentary (2nd ed., 1951) at 683, original emphasis.
Again, we see how the Kennedy funeral continues to be grist for our mills.
Again, I am of the opinion that the late Senator should have had a funeral, for the sake of praying for his soul. I am not convinced that what happened was a funeral in that sense.