Promotion or Not?

Lots of bloggers are abuzz the past week with Archbishop Burke’s immediate move to Rome as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. A contrast in commentariats tackles the issue. At dotCommonweal the few, the proud, and the brave “orthodox” are basically saying, “You support women’s ordination, so of course you’re cheering.” And at InsideCatholic they’re insisting he’s a really, really, really good bishop, just misunderstood. (Note: these are intentionally caricatured viewpoints with far less nuance than the real thing.) Archbishop Burke gets a red hat and a job he’ll love, but is it really a promotion?

Rock reported that Burke has long been a standout in scholarly circles, and capped that stage of his career with five years in Rome working at the Signatura before his 1994 appointment to the see of LaCrosse.

Which is the real Raymond Burke? The legal scholar or the bishop? Which was the sidebar to his life’s work: being a legal mind or being a pastor?

If the man’s heart is in law rather than leadership, he seems to resemble a bit of this American president, where moving to a high court was his most satisfying personal achievement. He once penned, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.”

If Burke shares that view, then the person will do better in Rome than in Saint Louis. At this stage of my life, I don’t begrudge anyone the most meaningful work in the most fruitful setting. He may or may not have been bumped by his brother bishops stateside. People may be cheering a bit that the long arm of canon law can’t reach across the Atlantic. But if the episcopacy was just a dalliance, then Archbishop Burke is cheering, too.

It does beg the question as to why we ordain an all-male clergy for this. We’re told men only for presbyters and bishops. Did Jesus establish at the Last Supper that the head of the Apostolic Signatura had to be male, too? If so, what is it about this office (or any curial position for that matter) that signifies Christ to the extent that a woman would not be considered. I’m sure there’s a legal opinion on that. Somewhere.

Personally, I’m glad–very glad–I’m staying in pastoral ministry.

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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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7 Responses to Promotion or Not?

  1. Gavin says:

    Could you explain what exactly the Apostolic Signatura does? I haven’t gotten a good, understandable definition of that.

    At any rate, I think this is a bad thing. Burke was a fantastic pastor and set an example that other bishops can strive to live up to (although my home diocese’s Bp. Boyea is doing a bang-up job). I’m inclined to agree with you: he’s either a bishop or a bureaucrat.

    For that matter your question isn’t why men only for the job. I think the question should be why the ordained only? Anyone can study canon law and prayerfully apply it to the Church (as far as I know it’s some kind of canon high court). Why does it have to be a bishop? Why do they have to take away the guy who did some of the best work in America?

  2. jeffrey says:

    Back to politics, how great it would be if we could get William H. Taft back today! America needs you WHT!

  3. Liam says:

    The old Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes (pasted below) the classic preconciliar viewpoint on the laity’s participation in ecclesiastical administration and government. You decide how much is doctrinal and how much isn’t for yourselves. I do think it has developed and should continue to develop – the only curial office that should have a cardinal’s hat should be Vicar General of the See of Rome, other than that generally no, and I believe most curial offices should be open to lay leadership (the Congregations of Bishops, Clery and Religious should be led by those who’ve had extensive active pastoral experience thereof). The Apostolic Signatura is the highest juridical court in the Church (the Roman equivalent of the SCOTUS except that there are no separation of powers in Roman law, so all are under the final jurisdiction of the supreme judge, executive and legislator – the Pope).

    “The principle is that the laity as such have no share in the spiritual jurisdiction and government of the Church; but they may be commissioned or delegated by ecclesiastical authority to exercise certain rights, especially when there is no question of strictly spiritual jurisdiction, for instance, in the administration of property. The laity are incapable, if not by Divine law at least by canon law, of real jurisdiction in the Church, according to chap. x, “De constit.” (lib. I. tit. ii): “Attendentes quod laicis etiam religiosis super ecclesiis et personis ecclesiasticis nulla sit atributa facultas, quos obsequendi manet necessitas non auctoritas imperandi”, i.e., the laity have no authority over things or persons ecclesiastical; it is their duty to obey not to command. Therefore no official acts requiring real ecclesiastical jurisdiction can be properly performed by the laity; if performed by them, they are null and void. A layman therefore cannot be at the head of a Church or any Christian community, nor can he legislate in spiritual matters, no act as judge in essentially ecclesiastical cases. In particular, the laity (and by this word we here include the secular authority) cannot bestow ecclesiastical jurisdiction on clerics under the form of an election properly so called, conferring the right to an episcopal or other benefice. An election by the laity alone, or one in which the laity took part, would be absolutely null and void (c. lvi, “De elect.”) (see ELECTION). But this refers to canonical election strictly so called, conferring jurisdiction on the right to receive it; if it is merely a question, on the other hand, of selecting an individual, either by way or presentation or a similar process, the laity are not excluded, for the canonical institution, the source of spiritual jurisdiction, is exclusively reserved to the ecclesiastical authority. That is why no objection can be raised against the principle we have laid down from the fact that the people took part in the episcopal elections in the first ages of the Church; to speak more accurately, the people manifested their wish rather than took part in the election; the real electors were the clerics; and lastly, the bishops who were present were the judges of the election, so that in reality the final decision rested in the hands of the ecclesiastical authority. It cannot be denied that in the course of time the secular power encroached on the ground of spiritual jurisdiction, especially in the case of episcopal elections; but the Church always asserted her claim to independence where spiritual jurisdiction was involved, as may be clearly seen in the history of the famous dispute about investitures (q.v.).

    When jurisdiction properly so called is duly protected, and there is question of administering temporal goods, the laity may and do enjoy as a fact real rights recognized by the Church. The most important is that of presentation or election in the wide sense of the term, now known as nomination, by which certain laymen select for the ecclesiastical authorities the person whom they wish to see invested with certain benefices or offices. The best known example is that of nomination to sees and other benefices by temporal princes, who have obtained that privilege by concordats. Another case recognized and carefully provided for in canon law is the right of patronage. This right is granted to those who from their own resources have established a benefice or who have at least amply endowed it (contributing more than one-third of the revenue). The patrons can, from the moment of foundation, reserve to themselves and their descendants, the right of active and passive patronage, not to mention other privileges rather honorary in their nature; in exchange for these rights, they undertake to protect and maintain their foundation. The right of active patronage consists principally in the presentation of the cleric to be invested with the benefice by the ecclesiastical authorities, provided he fulfils the requisite conditions. The right of passive patronage consists in the fact that the candidates for the benefice are to be selected from the descendants or the family of the founder. The patrons enjoy by right a certain precedence, among other things the right to a more prominent seat in the churches founded or supported by them; sometimes, also, they enjoy other honours; they can reserve to themselves a part in the administration of the property of the benefice; finally, if they fall upon evil days, the Church is obliged to help them from the property that was acquired through the generosity of their ancestors. All these rights, it is clear, and particularly that of presentation, are concessions made by the Church, and not privileges which the laity have of their own right.

    It is but equitable that those who furnish the resources required by the Church should not be excluded from their administration. For that reason the participation of the laity in the administration of church property, especially parish property, is justified. Under the different names such as, “building councils”, “parish councils”, “trustees”, etc., and with rules carefully drawn up or approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, and often even recognized by the civil law, there exist almost everywhere administrative organizations charged with the care of the temporal goods of churches and other ecclesiastical establishments; most of the members are laymen; they are selected in various ways, generally co-option, subject to the approval of the bishop. But this honourable office does not belong to the laity in their own right; it is a privilege granted to them by the Church, which alone has the right to administer her own property (Conc. Plen. Baltim. III, n. 284 sq.); they must conform to the regulations and act under the control of the ordinary, with whom ultimately the final decision rests; lastly and above all, they must confine their energies to temporal administration and never encroach on the reserved domain of spiritual things (Conc. Plen. Baltim. II, n. 201; see BUILDINGS, ECCLESIASTICAL). Lastly, there are many educational and charitable institutions, founded and directed by laymen, and which are not strictly church property, though they are regularly subject to the control of the ordinary (Conc. Trid., Seess. VII, c. xv; Sess. XXII, c. viii); the material side of these works is not the most important, and to attain their end, the laity who govern there will above all be guided and directed by the advice of their pastors, whose loyal and respectful auxiliaries they will prove themselves to be.”

  4. Liam says:

    Btw, Todd, I want to commend your insights here into the case of Abp Burke. While one could argue that it would be helpful as a practical and prudential matter for the chief justice of the Church’s supreme court to have active experience as an ordinary in an active pastoral context, it would also be highly virtuous for the Church’s leadership to openly acknowledge the cost to the local church when it is objectified as a training camp at the expense of the deeper value of true shepherding.

  5. Jeffrey writes:

    “Back to politics, how great it would be if we could get William H. Taft back today! America needs you WHT!”

    Here, here! Taft was a jewel, bookended by the poop sandwich of Roosevelt and Wilson. We could use, once again, a president who knows his place. Haven’t had one of those in many a moon.

  6. michael says:

    the poop sandwich of Roosevelt and Wilson.

    Care to elaborate?

  7. Michael writes:

    [the poop sandwich of Roosevelt and Wilson.

    Care to elaborate?]

    Hi Michael,

    Yes, Teddy got the U.S.S. Imperialism sailing with his navy, and Wilson dragged us unnecessarily into WWI. That threw off the balance of power and led to total allied victory, which allowed for the extortionist Treaty of Versailles. As a result, the German economy collapsed and social conditions were perfect for Hitler’s entrance.

    To top that off, Wilson forced the Kaiser to resign as a condition for peace, which sent the Germans looking for a new government… Now,obviously, Wilson didn’t cause WWII, but it’s tough to imagine all the elements coming together without him.

    Taft, being a conservative, understood that the U.S. military was intended for defense and not for throwing around U.S. power. Not such a popular idea any more.

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