When Pope Francis moved U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke last year out of a senior post in the Vatican to a largely ceremonial role as head of a Rome-based Catholic charity, many viewed it as a way to sideline one of the pontiff’s most outspoken critics on the right.
But the move hasn’t silenced Burke, who served as the St. Louis archbishop from his installation in 2004 until 2008.
The American cardinal told an interviewer that gay couples and divorced and remarried Catholics who were trying to live good and faithful lives were still like “the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people.”
“If you are living publicly in a state of mortal sin there isn’t any good act that you can perform that justifies that situation: The person remains in grave sin,” Burke said in an interview published Tuesday with LifeSiteNews, a U.S.-based web service that promotes conservative causes.
“And to give the impression that somehow there’s something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the (Catholic) Church has always and everywhere taught,” said Burke, who spoke to LifeSiteNews while on a recent trip to Paris.
Asked if being kind, generous and dedicated was enough, Burke said: “Of course it’s not. It’s like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people.”
On the surface, Burke’s comments break little new theological ground — the church has always taught that sin is sin. Evangelicals, too, argue that all people are sinners, whether through lying, stealing or being sexually active outside traditional marriage.
However, the cardinal’s comments take on added weight in the context of the increasingly heated debate that Francis opened over how the church should respond to modern changes in family life.
The issues were debated at a global summit of bishops and cardinals at the Vatican in October, and the debates have continued as both sides jockey for position ahead of a follow-up synod this October. Those who back reforms in church practices and attitudes — especially toward gay couples and those who are divorced or living together — are opposed by those who see any changes as tantamount to undermining doctrine.
At last fall’s synod, several high-ranking churchmen spoke about the lives of unmarried or remarried couples as having value that the church should recognize.
Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn repeatedly said that the church should “look at the person and not the sexual orientation.” He cited the case of a gay couple he knew in which one partner cared for the other through a long-term illness in a way that was “exemplary. Full stop.”
Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, a senior advisor to Francis, said that “one simply cannot say that a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades is nothing.”
“We just mustn’t lump things together and measure everything with the same yardstick, but must differentiate and take a closer look, which doesn’t mean that I endorse homosexuality as a whole,” he said.
But such language sounded alarm bells for traditionalists such as Burke, 66.
In this latest interview, he repeated his earlier beliefs that reformers were manipulating the synod discussions and waging a media campaign “to justify extramarital sexual relations and sexual acts between persons of the same sex” that would undermine church teaching. Burke, 66, has raised eyebrows, and made headlines, with previous comments. Earlier this year, he argued that the church has become too “feminized” and he blamed the introduction of altar girls more than 20 years ago for the decline in vocations to the church’s all-male priesthood.
The cardinal also blamed gay clergy for the church’s sexual abuse crisis, saying priests “who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity” were the ones who molested children.
Beth O'Malley • 314-340-8869