Cardinal Raymond Burke is a 66-year-old guy who lives in Rome, dresses like Queen Elizabeth, and talks like someone who majored in misogyny at some bogus, backwoods, Bible-banging tent school. Until Pope Francis stripped him of the powerful Vatican post Pope Benedict had handed him, Burke behaved like the Catholic Church’s version of Ted Cruz, operating with an ego and an attitude that proclaimed him to always be right on matters of doctrine and dogma.
Burke’s new post makes him the equivalent of a head waiter at the annual Knights of Malta Communion breakfast, but the demotion has only emboldened him. A few days ago the former archbishop of St. Louis was interviewed by some pamphlet geared to restoring guy-talk in Catholicism, and Burke did not disappoint.
“Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men,” Burke told the correspondent from a pamphlet called (get this) The New Emangelization.
“Sadly,” he pointed out, “the Church has not effectively reacted to these destructive cultural forces; instead the Church has become too influenced by radical feminism and has largely ignored the serious needs of men.”
As I read Burke’s manifesto on his desire for more arm-wrestling, towel-snapping, locker-room guys to play larger roles in Catholicism, a couple of thoughts went round and round in the carousel within my noggin: those attending mass today in too many American parishes resemble people sitting around the day-room of an assisted living facility. God love them but they are old, committed, and slowly disappearing.
The church in the United States is not exactly a growth industry. Parishes are being closed or merged. There are too few priests and not exactly a lot of people lining up for a vocation that requires and insists on celibacy.
The second, almost immediate thought was of a woman I knew quite well whose husband died young, leaving her with a few children and an absence of both money and employment in a struggling New England factory town where the paper mills and textile plants were heading south at a pace that soon left Main Street looking like abandoned property.
She buried her husband on a bitter cold December morning two days before Christmas during John F. Kennedy’s first year in the White House. She could curse in Gaelic and pray in Latin.
She had no job, but quickly, within weeks of her husband’s death, she began working at the rectory of the large Irish parish where the church steeple was just about the highest point in town, built by other immigrants in the 19th century as a bold statement announcing their arrival. She did the priest’s laundry, washed and ironed altar linens and vestments, and prepared lunch and supper for four or five priests, two of them veterans of World War II.
She took home less than $60 a week. She went back to school, enrolling in one of what was then called a “teacher’s college” in the old Massachusetts community college system.
After she got her diploma she began teaching fourth and fifth grade at the parish parochial school, where she remained for three decades. She went to mass every day of the week and prayed nearly as much as she breathed. When her youngest boy was in Vietnam she became a daily communicant, a routine that continued after his war service ended.
Her faith was stronger than steel. Her belief that God was all-knowing and forgiving was unshakeable. She was in the forgiveness business and had a deep understanding of human frailty, an insight that never left her until she died at 93.
I called her “my mother the nun.”
So when I read Raymond Burke clowning it up with his bogus beliefs that the Catholic Church has lost a few steps because of the absence of “manly men,” I could hear Mom muttering, “pol’thoin” (asshole) to describe him. That description would have been applied for many reasons but the biggest would be the most obvious: Burke is a guy whose most firm belief is in himself and his own pronouncements.
The cost of his gilded, ornate vestments could feed a family of four across a decade. He has exhausted himself and more than a few who have had to listen to him trying to ban pro-choice politicians from receiving communion. He has attacked St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus for attending a Hillary Clinton rally and tried to prevent Sheryl Crow from giving a concert to raise money for a Catholic hospital.
Last year, as Pope Francis began turning the lights back on within a church that has seen legions depart simply because so many in the clergy said so little about the criminality and obstruction of justice surrounding the reality of sexual abusers wearing roman collars, Burke said, “There is a strong sense that the Church is like a ship without a rudder.”
Raymond Burke: Member of the College of Cardinals and captain of a ship of fools.
For more from Mike Barnicle, visit mikebarnicle.com.