Another Stumble for the Pro-Life Cause

I’m not often sure what to make of Archbishop Burke, over on the other side of my state. Morning’s Minion has a pretty fair measure of the man and his latest adventures in public relations.

At first, I wasn’t going to say anything about the Sheryl Crow Archbishop Burke fiasco. MM pretty much nails it:

For a start, this was a pretty stupid move. If the aim is to promote Catholic teaching on these topics, it clearly backfired. This kind of ham-fisted intervention just creates sympathy for Crow.

My main problem, though, is the inconsistency. Yet again, we have criticism of a public figure (I suppose an entertainer qualifies as a public figure!) based on opposition to selective moral principles, in this case, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

I think Archbishop Burke is well-intentioned and from what I can see, a man of principle. He also strikes me as tenacious, if not stubborn. And I think this is where he gets into trouble. We saw it in the case of the excommunication of the laity of St Stanislaus Church in St Louis. I think the pattern repeats itself with his recent tussle with Crow through the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.

The basic ideas are easy enough to grasp: Crow’s public positions on ESCR and abortion are well known. Burke, as a bishop and leader, has a responsibility to uphold aspects of the faith entrusted to him. No sensible person denies any of this.

I also admire that the archbishop attempted to negotiate quietly and out of the spotlight to resolve the situation. But when it couldn’t happen, then he got into trouble.

We should realize by now that withdrawing an invitation to a specific person is covered not as an issue of principle, but as a one-on-one confrontation. Like it or not, unfair as it may be, the details of making such a stand by confronting people has too much of a sense of being personal rather than being principled.

The media, non-Catholics, and Catholics themselves see and observe the inconsistent approach of the hierarchy to which MM alludes. It may not always be correct, but the scent hounds start zeroing in on the story as an interpersonal conflict. The St Stans laity defied Burke. He excommunicated them. The previous bishop didn’t resort to excommunication. And other bishops with problems don’t excommunicate. But Burke did. Can we completely rule out that it didn’t get personal for him? Given his track record, I think not.

Burke picked a bad setting for his protest. A children’s hospital? One named after a cardinal? He was right to attempt behind-the-scenes negotiation. When they didn’t work, this was a battle from which he needed to quietly withdraw. If anything, sending a letter directly to Sheryl Crow would have been a far better effort. Is this about her political views? Why not go to the target and avoid the people in the middle? Keep the media out of it, and there might have been hope for a conversion of heart.

Even though pro-Lifers are cheering their “courageous” bishop, I think they’ve lost another battle by hauling out that old war plan that has cost them so much in the past. “Let’s make a principled stand in the public eye that makes us look like jerks.”How many babies were saved this time? It’s really time to put this plan into retirement.
In any aspect of life, you win some, you lose some. Cutting one’s losses is sometimes a necessary strategy for long-term hopes. Players of games know it. Warmakers and even pacifists realize it.

Unless of course, we’re talking about an infusion of personal pride into life’s conflict. Hanging on like a bulldog when the cause is lost is not only embarassing it’s ultimately counter-productive for the cause. But public opinion will begin regarding it more as an exercise in one’s personality flaws rather than a stand forged in sacrifice and principle.

More prudential judgment, please.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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13 Responses to Another Stumble for the Pro-Life Cause

  1. Gavin says:

    So, if I understand you correctly, the Archbishop should have just given up on the issue? I’m not sure I side with him, but frankly I don’t know what else he could have done.

  2. Jim says:

    Obviously you are not concerned about the innocent children destroyed in large numbers every day. That’s fine for you.

    However, Christians are people who hold sacred the value of human life. Based on these values there is no question about the bishops choice.

    This is a cause that is so embedded in Christian thinking. Distruction of innocent children will never be accepted.

    Until there are no Christians alive. Christians and Catholics will fight for protection of all life especially the life of the innocent child.

    Maybe you are correct, the battle is lost.
    When we are all gone you can live with all the other people like you. People having no regard for life.

    After all evertything is RELATIVE!

    I would not want to live in your world.

  3. Tony says:

    You chafe under the crook, don’t you Todd. I almost think you would prefer your shepherd simply let you walk off the cliff for the sake of not hurting your feelings.

    This is a CATHOLIC charity. CATHOLICS are supposed to listen to their bishop when he’s teaching them. I guess you’re only supposed to listen to your Bishop when it’s someone like Tod Brown yanking you off your knees so you can receive our Lord standing.

    You may think it was a ham handed faux pas on the part of the bishop, but my guess is that the only people who think so are groups like Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful and “Catholics” for Free Choice.

    Not the kind of company I’d like to be in.

  4. Mike says:

    Jim and Tony, you might want to look up “Pyrrhic Victory” in the dictionary, in order to see what Todd was getting at. In your case, Jim, you should also look up “self-righteous jerk,” but you’d save time by looking in the mirror for an example.

  5. Liam says:

    Crow is a symptom, not the cause. The center’s management is the cause and should be the primary target of Abp Burke’s efforts here. To

    Is there another approach? Well, perhaps Abp Burke could, instead of leaving the board, *increase* his palpable presence in the workings of the center/hospital. Triaging his time involves prudential decisions, but I would think having his presence becoming more palpable would lay some important groundwork – and make people who would prefer his presence to be nominal feel rather uncomfortable. “In their face” in a different way?

    Sometimes, the better answers involve more radical (root) work that others hope can be avoided for lack of energy.

  6. Todd says:

    Friends, we have yet another example of the single-mindedness (some would say fanaticism) of the pro-life movement at work here, both in Archbishop Burke and our commentators.

    It is insufficient in the eyes of some to take a consistent pro-life stand, both personally and politically. What is required is to adhere absolutely to the tactics of desperation. At least as the human passions of stubbornness and rage require it.

    If we’re interested in Burke’s methods in this case, why not ask the sly wolves in the pro-choice camp if they’re better off today than last week?

  7. Bill McKenzie says:

    To begin with, I am an Archbishop Burke partisan, in fact I coordinate the Defenders of Archbishop Burke, a lay group of 400+ Catholics here in St. Louis.

    The article “Another Stumble For The Pro-Life Cause” makes many points that I would like to address. As a St. Louisan who has witnessed closely the actions of Archbishop Burke and come to know him I would like to offer a perspective that those outside this archdiocese may not have.

    I will take the article point-by-point.

    The title, “Another Stumble For the Pro-Life Cause” misses the point. Although this controversy will affect the Pro-life cause and other causes to some degree it is not about the Pro-Life cause. It is about a bishop of the Church administering his diocese responsibly on a matter that will, as do all decisions by leaders, affect many causes. Archbishop Burke did not take action in order to help the Pro-Life cause. This was not part of the decision. He took action because he is a shepherd responsible to God for the souls of those entrusted to him. He is acutely aware of this to a degree that perhaps no other bishop is. His sole motivation in the Cardinal Glennon matter was to prevent scandal, the scandal that inevitably comes when a public dissenter is invited to headline a Catholic event.

    “this was a pretty stupid move…it clearly backfired”. Oh, really? Whether or not this was a stupid move will only become clear over time. As a person who has been publicly involved in both the St. Stanislaus controversy and the Sheryl Crow controversy I assure you that although the archbishop was roundly condemned and had few defenders in the first crisis the landscape has changed dramatically now. I have received many emails from all over the world in the last two days pouring out praise and thanks on Archbishop Burke. Scotland, Argentina, the Phillipines, Australia etc, the list goes on and on. Here are some sample comments:
    ” I am not a Catholic…I only wish there was a bishop like you in my city”
    “I applaud your stand and I write this all the way from Australia”
    “Thank you very much for being a shining example and standing for TRUTH!”
    “I am a Zimbabwean expat living in the Philippines, and just want to let Bishop Burke know that we thank and Bless him even over here.”
    “it sure is good to ears to hear from you and may God bless you.”
    “I do pray daily for the Church and the Shepherds in these turbulent times and from now on , I WILL DO IT SPECIALLY FOR YOU” (from Argentina)
    “You’re a hero to me and to everyone that is faithful to Christ and His Church.”
    The media here in St. Louis reports that public comments are split 50/50. The archdiocese gets five positive responses for every negative. Stupid? Isn’t it a little premature, pompous and uninformed to call the actions of His Excellency “stupid”? I detect the strong scent of conventional wisdom here. To understand this man you must observe not pontificate.

    “This kind of ham-fisted intervention just creates sympathy for Crow.” And what is wrong with creating sympathy for Sheryl Crow? As he stated repeatedly, the archbishop acted to avert scandal. How it benefited or hurt Sheryl Crow was not part of the decision. When a holy and responsible person like Archbishop Burke makes a decision based on principle it does not matter how the decision may help someone on the “other side”, because to him, nobody is on the other side. Remember “Love Your Enemy”? This is not a political calculation for him, although it may be for you.

    ““My main problem, though, is the inconsistency…the inconsistent approach of the hierarchy.” Do you really expect an individual bishop to be limited by the consensus of a bishop’s conference? Isn’t it much more important for a bishop to fulfill his duties as delineated by Canon Law than to suppress his knowledge of his clear responsibility simply because the some bishops are too cowardly to fulfill their duties? Given this standard no bishop could ever say anything on any matter of substance. Isn’t it much more important for an individual bishop to be consistent in word and action than for a group of individuals to be consistent (as if any group of people can be consistent – this is simply pie-in-the-sky nonsense) This opinion also betrays a misunderstanding of the canonical status of bishops conferences. Pssst: they may not survive the papacy of Benedict XVI. They have no authority in Church history.

    “we have criticism of a public figure…based on opposition to selective moral principles, in this case, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.” What exactly is a “selective moral principle”? Is it different than a moral principle? Are moral principles less valid when they stand alone? Must they be in a group (like the bishops in a bishops conference) to be more true? This is nonsense. A single moral principle, if it is true, does not lose its veracity by being selected. We seem to have discomfort with individuality and specificity here. Bishops and morals must act in concert or they don’t count. Hmmm…. That’s a good way to render the hierarchy totally impotent.

    “He also strikes me as tenacious, if not stubborn…this is where he gets into trouble” Would you be more comfortable with a weak, vascilating bishop? Actually, those who know Archbishop Burke know that he is anything but stubborn. He is superbly formed in his duty and has the courage to act. He feels just as passionately about abolishing capital punishment and restrictive immigration laws as he does about outlawing embryonic stem cell research. This man walks the walk. Most bishops are self-deformed in their duties and lack the courage to act. He stands out by virtue of his excellence. His actions really have nothing to do with tenacity although, if I remember rightly tenacity is a virtue, part of fortitude, one of the Cardinal Virtues. Again, would you prefer a bishop who is willing to “get into trouble” for the sake of truth, or e a man who won’t take a step unless he can please every constituent in his diocese? Those kinds make me ill.

    “We should realize by now that withdrawing an invitation to a specific person is covered not as an issue of principle, but as a one-on-one confrontation.” I assume that by “is covered” you are referring to the media. Do you realize that you are suggesting that a bishop should be governed by the level of ignorance of the media? And that in a matter involving the eternal destiny of thousands of souls he should first ask himself “What will the Times think?” Just wondering.

    “The previous bishop didn’t resort to excommunication. And other bishops with problems don’t excommunicate. But Burke did. Can we completely rule out that it didn’t get personal for him? Given his track record, I think not.” So…other bishops don’t excommunicate. Does this automatically indicate that Archbishop Burke is therefore in the wrong? Does might make right? Is the majority position the moral position? Either Archbishop Burke did the right thing or he didn’t. And either these other bishops did the right thing or they didn’t.’” On certain matters these things are spelled out in canon law. I submit to you that most bishops are too cowardly to implement the obvious directives of canon law, and that Archbishop Burke is not. This is why he stands out. When dealing with human beings we cannot “rule out” the intrusion of personal feelings in any of us. But ask anyone who personally knows Archbishop Burke. They will tell you that he is the calmest, gentlest, kindest, most serene man they have ever known. Of all men I have ever known he is the least likely to let personal considerations influence him. If he were not, why would he take action that brings the condemnation of the world down around him? Do you think he is a masochist? I suggest that it is “personal feelings” that make weaker bishops walk on egg shells. They cannot stand the heat. In Archbishop Burke we have a profile in courage, not “personal feelings”. Some people are just too cynical to see it.

    “Burke picked a bad setting for his protest. A children’s hospital? One named after a cardinal?” So, he should ignore the welfare of his flock merely because of the “setting”, even though the “setting” was actually a fundraiser for the hospital and was conducted by a group separate from the hospital? And he should dishonor the legacy of Cardinal John Glennon by being disobedient to his responsibilities as a bishop? This gets weirder and weirder.

    “I think they’ve lost another battle by hauling out that old war plan that has cost them so much in the past. “Let’s make a principled stand in the public eye that makes us look like jerks.” How about the truth “Let’s make a principled stand even though it will be misunderstood by some people who don’t like us and the Church anyway”

    “public opinion will begin regarding it more as an exercise in one’s personality flaws rather than a stand forged in sacrifice and principle.” This is sad. Do you realize that you are suggesting that a bishop of the Catholic Church, a successor of the apostles, a shepherd of the very Body of Christ should forsake principle because “public opinion” will misconceive it? Is this how the Church of the martyrs became the most enduring and transforming force in the history of the world? By courting public opinion? For your information we make public opinion, we don’t follow it. The Catholic Church is led by the Lord of History. We don’t follow anybody but Him.

    You haven’t heard the last of Archbishop Burke. He is not going to change. And you will see his influence transform both the American Church and American society in the years to come. He is not going to change, but he’s changing everything around him. Stand back and be amazed.

  8. If the Archbishop can get some of his friends to donate some thousands of kilobucks to the hospital on a regular basis, then the hospital wouldn’t have to have big-time fundraisers with hospital-loving big-time Talent, with which Talent folk might disagree on other subjects but hospitalized children………..

  9. Tony says:

    with which Talent folk might disagree on other subjects but hospitalized children………..

    Yup, like killing children.

  10. Mike says:

    re: Bill McKenzie

    Bill,

    Excellent post. I’d like to add one more thing. Archbishop Burke did not “excommunicate the laity of St. Stanislaus parish.” The lay board of directors of the parish and the priest who abandoned his post in the Diocese of Springfield to become their hired-gun pastor suffered the punishment of automatic excommunication for their acts of public defiance. In effect they excommunicated themselves. The Archbishop had nothing to do with it.

    Because the defiant acts were done in such a public manner, thanks to the cooperation of the local news media, Archbishop Burke was required by Canon Law, as the pastor of the Archdiocese, to announce that the excommunications had taken place.

    As far as the parishioners of St. Stanislaus are concerned, their status with the Catholic Church is an individual matter. Presumably most of them have repudiated their Catholic faith by continuing to attend a non-Catholic Church, but the Archbishop has said nothing concerning them, and most likely won’t.

    I second Bill’s statement that I have never met a more unassuming, humble, thoughtful, holy man that Archbishop Burke and I doubt that I ever will.

  11. Jimmy Mac says:

    As has been said time and time again: when your favorite weapon is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

    Burke didn’t even achieve a phyrric victory. He just reinforced his image as a blustering, bludgeoning episcopal oaf of the Brusquewitless of Lincoln school of leadership.

  12. Elena says:

    “He just reinforced his image as a blustering, bludgeoning episcopal oaf of the Brusquewitless of Lincoln school of leadership.”

    To some perhaps.

    To others he’s a hero.

    For me it’s just refreshing to see a bishop actually grow a set and be a LEADER!!

  13. Pingback: Speaking of Speakers « Catholic Sensibility

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