Burke’s Time in St. Louis: Controversy and Respect

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Archbishop Raymond Burke, after a four-and-a-half year tenure as spiritual leader of the 500,000-member Roman Catholic community of Greater St. Louis, will leave that post at the end of August to accept a major appointment at the Vatican as Chief Justice of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, a key Church entity. Archbishop Burke’s tenure was marked both by considerable controversy over a variety of issues, some of which affected Catholic-Jewish relations, and by great admiration among many members of the local Roman Catholic community.

The Jewish and Roman Catholic communities of Greater St. Louis for many decades have enjoyed extremely positive relations. Archbishop Burke’s immediate predecessor, Archbishop Justin Rigali, developed warm and friendly relationships with the Jewish community, which were greatly enhanced during the historic visit to St. Louis by the late and beloved Pope John Paul II.

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Archbishop Rigali built upon the strong legacy of his predecessors, including the late and esteemed Archbishop John May in forging mutually beneficial interfaith ties with the Jewish community. These positive ties were also strengthened by the distinguished tenure of Rev. Vincent C. Heier, longtime director of the Archdiocesan Office on Human Rights. When Archbishop Burke replaced Archbishop Rigali in 2004, he was invited to a reception hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building. Archbishop Burke was gracious and thoughtful at the reception and indicated his strong desire for positive Catholic-Jewish relations during his tenure.

Archbishop Burke has long been known for his respected expertise in Church law, which has been recognized by his elevation to his new position. Those same qualities which have gained Archbishop Burke international respect for his expertise, have also provoked considerable controversy in his responses to several local issues. Some of these issues created some tensions with major segments of the Jewish community and the Greater St. Louis community, including the following:

* Archbishop Burke, along with other Church leaders in other parts of the nation, said he would deny Holy Communion to Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee and to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, for their stance in favor of women’s reproductive choice.

* Archbishop Burke led a multi-denominational battle against the passage of Amendment 2 to the Missouri Constitution, which protected embryonic stem cell research. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community, including many in all streams of Judaism, supported the potentially life-saving research. Archbishop Burke denounced the measure as a “moral disaster for the state” because of his belief that it would involve cloning and a form of abortion.

* In 2007, Archbishop Burke announced his support for the controversial restoration of the Latin Mass, which had been set aside after Vatican II, and which contained accompanying language considered highly disrespectful towards Jews. Rev. Heier and other Catholic leaders expressed support for the elimination of such language so as not to endanger Catholic-Jewish relations.

* In March 2008, a highly controversial ordination ceremony for two Roman Catholic women was hosted at Central Reform Congregation. The decision to provide space in the CRC Sanctuary for the ceremony, considered illegal by the official Catholic Church, was controversial within both the Jewish and Catholic communities, and some of the rhetoric on both sides of the issue strained Catholic-Jewish ties.

Needless to say, the above controversies had an impact on local Catholic-Jewish relations, which is completely understandable. Many within the Catholic community, in letters to local media, have strongly supported and praised Archbishop Burke as a champion of strict interpretation of Church doctrine; others both within and outside of the Church, have been critical of him.

Sometimes, in order to maintain relations, religious communities need to “agree to disagree” on certain issues, while at the same time making sure that we maintain and build that mutual respect whenever possible. On a personal level, Archbishop Burke was widely admired for his mentoring skills among local Catholic seminary students and for his strong support of the Catholic school system in his diocese.

Archbishop Burke will have an opportunity to deploy his recognized expertise in Church laws and doctrine as he takes up his new post with Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. We hope he finds satisfaction and fulfillment in his new position, and wish him well. We also reaffirm our commitment to the importance of maintaining strong Jewish-Catholic relations based on appreciation for our shared values and mutual respect for our differences.