I almost spilled my coffee at the headline in the Washington Post this morning: Vatican Archbishop Issues Apology. The archbishop in question is Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis and now head of the Vatican’s version of the Supreme Court. Burke is famously blunt and willing to horn in on whatever is going elsewhere — which in part is what got him his post in Rome.
So of course, the Post headline is wrong. Burke, apologize? Please. Dick Cheney will apologize before that happens. But here’s the story, in three acts.
Act One: The "Gotcha Video" — Yesterday Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue and Terry Schaivo fame and recent Catholic convert) held a press conference to broadcast an interview he had done with Burke a couple of weeks ago in Rome. As the National Catholic Reporter says to lead off their story:
Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former St. Louis prelate who now leads the Vatican supreme court, has called on parishioners to pressure reluctant bishops to withhold Communion from Catholic politicians who back legalized abortion.
He also said President Barack Obama "could be an agent of death" if his support for abortion rights becomes a model for leaders in other countries.
The archbishop made his highly unusual comments to anti-abortion activist Randall Terry in a videotaped interview that Terry showed March 25 at the National Press Club in Washington.
"It is weakening the faith of everyone," Burke said. "It’s giving the impression that it must be morally correct to support procured abortion."
Act Two: the Non-Apology Apology — After news of Terry’s press conference got back to Rome (I’d say it took five minutes), Burke realized that these videotaped comments are not going to go down well in the US, especially among the bishops. He then issued a statement of his own:
“. . . I was never informed that the videotape would be used as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow bishops regarding the application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.
“If I had known what the true purpose of the interview was, I would never have agreed to participate in it."
[Burke] then said: “I am deeply sorry for the confusion and hurt which the wrong use of the videotape has caused to anyone, particularly, to my brother bishops.”
Shorter Burke to the bishops: "I’m sorry the words I said got back to you. I meant to scold you behind your backs, not to your faces."
Act Three: Tune in Next Week — And why did this happen yesterday? Because Kathleen Sebelius is having her confirmation hearing to head HHS next week.
The Catholic anti-abortion crowd is putting on the full court press, and they’re using every tool in their box to pressure the hierarchy. They took liberties with Brownback last month to get folks riled up about FOCA, they got Sebelius’ own bishop to attack her earlier this month, and now they are messing with one of their staunchest and most powerful allies, Raymond Burke, to pressure McCarrick and Mahoney.
If I were a Catholic bishop (like that’s ever going to happen!), I’d be thinking, "With friends like these . . ."