Monday, July 10, 2006

Archbishop Burke's additional assignment

As if Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis didn't have enough to do already, the Holy Father has laid on him another task. It was announced today from the Holy See that he has been appointed to be a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

I heard the other day that he was in Rome for the pallium ceremony, most likely because of his good friend, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. It's obvious, then, that he had other meetings while he was there and was asked to be part of the Signatura. (As an aside, he probably also celebrated his birthday (June 30th) and the anniversary of his priestly ordination (June 29th) at his favorite restaurant, a great place on the outskirts of Rome right near the catacombs. But for the life of me, I can't remember its name.)

This is high recognition of Archbishop Burke's canonical skills. His resume includes working for five years as Defender of the Bond at the Signatura, which is really the Church's highest court (outside the person of the Holy Father himself, of course). In fact, he was the first American to be appointed to that post. He was appointed to be the Bishop of La Crosse by Pope John Paul II when he was working in that office, and then ordained a bishop by the Pope himself on January 6, 1995.

Archbishop Burke told me when I first met and interviewed him for Inside the Vatican back in the Fall of 1998, that while he was Defender of the Bond, he only had about a handful of cases where he actually defended the bond. The Signatura oversees the world's canonical courts and when marriage cases reach there, rather than the Roman Rota, that means the cases are being appealed on technical or procedural grounds, and not on the contents of the case. Those kinds of marriage cases are few and far between. So he primarily worked on really difficult non-marital canonical cases, cases that had been in the making for a long time and where the parties were deeply entrenched in their mutually hostile positions. For this work, he is still well-regarded in the Vatican and has many, many friends there.

I think it's striking that after 11 years of not being at the Signatura, the Holy Father still recognizes Archbishop Burke's abilities and thinks so highly of them that he would appoint him to that post. There are some who think that what he said about John Kerry and the ensuing flap during the 2004 elections caused him to become out of favor with Rome, but that is obviously not the case.

This is also vindication for his handling of the St. Stanislaus case (see posting below). Apparently the powers that be in the Holy See think that he went about the case just fine and that it didn't matter that the excommunications came not too long before Christmas, as some in St. Louis complained.

But when it comes to polticians, we now have an interesting situation. Archbishop Wuerl is in D.C. and is dead set against denying Communion to Catholic pols who vote for and vocally support abortion. Archbishop Burke, on the other hand, interpreted Canon 915 to mean that someone like John Kerry can and should be denied Communion. Yet, it is Archbishop Burke who will now be able to do something should a case work through the Catholic Church's bureaucracy and land itself in the Signatura's case pile.

I also find it interesting that there was in Rome at one time this trio of archbishops -- Burke, DiNardo and Wuerl -- for the same occasion. Burke and DiNardo are friends. DiNardo and Wuerl know each other since they are both originally from Pittsburgh. (Actually, DiNardo was born in Steubenville, Ohio, but then his family moved 45 miles east to grow up in Pittsburgh and was ordained for that diocese.) Could there have been some discussion between the three of them in a quieter moment? Perhaps we might see something good come later on.

See Ed Peters' entry on this at his blog.

Update 2
Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms Ed's observations in this report. However, his description of the Defender of the Bond as being similar to the U.S. Solicitor General is inaccurate. The Defender of the Bond has the responsibility of presenting to the Court, whether it be a diocesan tribunal, metropolitan tribunal, the Roman Rota or the Signatura, "everything which reasonably can be brought forth against nullity or dissolution" (canon 1432). Since, as I said above, the Defender at the Signatura doesn't have a whole lot of marriage or ordination cases to defend, he has additional responsibilities assigned to him, which may or may not be similar to those of the Solicitor General (I simply don't know). However, they are in addition to the office of Defender, not part of it.

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