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Raymond Burke to become a cardinal

This article  first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2010 - Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, now a Vatican resident, will get a red hat next month, the pope announced today. As of noon Rome time today, he's called Cardinal-designate Burke.

Pope Benedict XVI will present the symbols of the office in a religious service, called a consistory, in St. Peter's Square in a month.

The honor is no surprise for Burke. Everyone who had held Burke's current church office has been named a cardinal, much in the way the archbishops of Paris, Milan and New York are always named a cardinal eventually.

Burke is one of the new crop of 24 cardinals -- the majority, like him, are pro forma as leaders of various Vatican offices, and those are heavily Italian. Cardinals-designate who are territorial leaders include the archbishops of Kinshasa, Congo; Aparecida, Brazil; Munich, Germany; Palermo, Sicily; Colombo, Sri Lanka and the sole seated U.S. prelate Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Three men are older than 80, and for them it is a personal honor, but they won't be able to vote for the next pope. Pope Benedict proclaimed his list near the end of his Wednesday General Audience at St. Peter's Square about noon Rome time.

A cardinal advises the pope, but his weightiest duty is to be an elector of the next pope.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a St. Louis native, was not named in this red-hat round because his Gotham predecessor, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, remains an elector-cardinal until his 80th birthday next April. Once each cardinal-elector reaches 80, he loses his vote, though he does retain, for life, the title of cardinal, scarlet garments and Vatican passport.

At 62, Burke has a good chance of voting for a pope, at least once. The late St. Louis Cardinal John Carberry was locked into the Sistine Chapel for two elections. He voted at the conclave that elected John Paul I and weeks later at the conclave that elected John Paul II. The last conclave was five and a half years ago this week.

If Burke lives to 80, he will have 18 years as a cardinal-elector, possibly voting for a successor to Pope Benedict, now 83, and maybe more.

Burke's red hat can't be considered a personal honor the way it was when former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles' son, the Jesuit theologian Father Avery Dulles, was plucked from his Fordham University classroom for the honor of being John Paul II's cardinal adviser.

A red hat for Burke was expected from June 2008, the moment the then-St. Louis archbishop was named to head the church's court of last resort in Rome as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura.

The prefect leads the tribunal, whose mandate is to handle appellate cases between bishops and their priests, appellate cases between Vatican congregations, and the very rare cases in the modern world between bishops and Catholic kings.

Burke, a native of the LaCrosse, Wis., diocese, worked in that Vatican court as a canon lawyer, in the role of "defender of the bond," for five years beginning in 1989.

The red hats of the three St. Louis Catholic cardinals, Cardinal John Glennon, Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter, and Cardinal John Carberry -- hang in the black, gray and white marble All Souls Chapel of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. Their remains are entombed in its crypt.

Today it seems the best way for a St. Louis archbishop to be named a cardinal is to be "traded" away. In 2004, Cardinal Justin F. Rigali was granted his red hat while he was in St. Louis but already packing for Philadelphia, where John Paul II had just reassigned him. Rigali was the first St. Louis archbishop to move on.

Burke's Stand Against John Kerry

Another surprise came in 2008 when the personally affable Burke left St. Louis after a tumultuous four and a half years that many of his brother U.S. bishops considered controversial, mainly because he spoke out against giving communion to pro-choice Democratic candidate John Kerry, a member of another diocese, the Boston Archdiocese. He was also considered controversial for continuing to raise funds for a grand Romanesque shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in his previous and native diocese of La Crosse, Wis. While his handling of the St. Stanislaus parish schism was unpopular in St. Louis, its basics had general approval among Catholic canon lawyers nationally.

In addition to Burke's current work at the appeals court, he has added other Vatican duties. He sits with bishops from around the world on the powerful body that helps the pope choose new bishops. The Congregation for Bishops receives three nominations for each vacant bishop's seat from the respective nation's Vatican nuncio, or diplomat. The nuncio compiles and vets his list with the assistance of the nation's bishops' conference. Rigali also sits on that powerful congregation.

This summer, Burke joined the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, where he can explain his ardor for Latin Masses and to the Vatican body that overseas the selection of Catholics for canonization.

There is irony in Wuerl and Burke getting their red hats together next month. Burke's name first became widely known among American bishops before he became a bishop himself, while he was working in Rome at the tribunal as the Defender of the Bond. In that assigned role, Burke defended a pedophile Pittsburgh priest who was appealing his bishop's decision to remove him from the priesthood for his criminal behavior.

That Pittsburgh bishop was Wuerl. He packed up the evidence against the priest and rushed to Rome. Wuerl won; the man was ousted from the priesthood.

Wuerl, outraged that the Signatura might have retained the man as a priest, spoke of this incident many times with other U.S. bishops in 2002 after the U.S. pedophile scandal broke. He spoke of it as U.S. bishops were forging their "Dallas" charter to protect children and youth, remove pedophile from the priesthood, and audit themselves on their efforts. Wuerl, who is fit and exercises regularly, turns 70 in November.

Burke Expresses Thanks

In a statement released Wednesday morning on the St. Louis Archdiocese website, Burke thanked the pope, his late parents, mentors and friends and added:

"My thoughts naturally turn to the many challenges which the Church faces in our day in carrying out her divine mission for the salvation of the world. In particular, I am deeply conscious of the critical importance of the loving witness of the Church to the truth, revealed to us by God through both faith and reason, which alone is our salvation.

I pledge myself anew to assist Pope Benedict XVI in this critical witness and in the many works of his pastoral charity on behalf of all our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the world."

The consistory at St. Peter's the Saturday before Thanksgiving presents challenges for Burke's and Wuerl's American friends who want to attend the rites in St. Peter's Square and return home for Thanksgiving Day, given the difficulty booking flights that busy travel week.

No doubt some of the St. Louis Catholics who faithfully followed Burke from parish to parish as he celebrated Mass or other devotions during his five years here will find a way.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer, who has long written on religion. 

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

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