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Cardinal Burke Frenzy – Another Failure of the U.S. Media

As most already know, preceding the national conventions, “a high volume” of “positive media coverage … propelled Trump to the top of the Republican poll.” After the nominations became official, “Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone. ‘Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?’” asks Thomas E. Patterson in a report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

While there is enough blame regarding 2016 polling to go around, as regards the Catholic vote, the Washington Post led with “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem” followed by the New York Times “Clinton Challenges Trump for a Traditional Republican Bloc, White Catholics.”

Both inferred that Pope Francis had an effect on U.S. Catholics that was detrimental to Trump. Both ignored that the PRRI polls (here and here) upon which they based their reporting showed that although Clinton led, support for Trump by white Catholics exceeded both the total electorate and white voters in general. Other polls reported that nearly two-thirds of Catholic registered voters are white and that “the IBD-TIPP daily tracking poll  – rated by Nate Silver as the most accurate national poll of the last presidential cycle in 2012 – consistently pointed to a Trump win among Catholics.”

In the end, “Trump won the highest percentage of Catholic voters (52%) for a Republican candidate since 2004. White Catholics supported Trump by a wide, 23-point margin (60% to 37%). Both white and Latino Catholics cast more ballots for Trump than for Romney in 2012.” “Evangelicals helped Trump in states he was mostly going to win anyway. Catholics? Now we’re talking about Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And that was the election.”

There is no comparison, of course, between the importance of a U.S. president and an inconsequential Catholic official. However, the highly inaccurate reporting about Cardinal Raymond L. Burke further impugns the media’s credibility.

There have been dozens upon dozens of recent articles about Burke, one of 226 cardinals in the Catholic Church. The articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post have been the most influential, so I will concentrate on those.

First a brief biography: Burke, 68, was appointed bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1994 and archbishop of St. Louis in 2003. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature in 2008 and elevated him to cardinal in 2010. During his time in the Vatican, Burke participated in no adjudications that we know of, nor was he the head of, nor distinguished for his leadership in, any other Vatican department. In November 2014, Pope Francis officially demoted Burke “to the largely ceremonial position of patron of the Order of Malta, which today functions largely as a philanthropic organization.”

Prior to the U.S. media falsely casting Burke as the most powerful nemesis of Pope Francis, his small notoriety was mostly as one of many “culture warrior” prelates hurling outrageous epithets at Pres. Obama. This, along with his love of obscenely opulent vestments and the Latin Mass,  made Burke a leader and sought-after speaker in only the traditionalist branch of the Catholic Church.

Outside of the Vatican, a prelate’s influence is estimated by the importance of the city in which he presides – for example New York, London, Hong Kong, etc. Within the Vatican, a man’s power derives from his closeness to the pope, although this is also true for hierarchs around the globe. Burke fits neither description.

New York Times

Journalist Terry Mattingly already  discredited the Feb. 7 New York Times “Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican.”

“The timing of the meeting” mentioned in the article between Bannon and Burke is “problematic,” Mattingly wrote. According to the Times reporter, Jason Horowitz, they met while Bannon was in Rome to attend the April 2014 canonization of Pope John Paul II. It wasn’t until September that it was first reported that Pope Francis was demoting Burke “to the pompous – but ecclesiastically very modest – title of ‘cardinal patron’” of the Knights of Malta. Burke confirmed this in October. Yet Horowitz wrote that Burke and Bannon “viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized” during that meeting.

“So far as we know, there has only been [that] one face-to-face encounter between Bannon and Burke” noted the experienced Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr. “Even if the two men do occasionally swap emails” as mentioned by Horowitz, “in itself there would be nothing extraordinary about it,” wrote Allen. “Bannon is a ferocious cultural conservative, and thus when he was in Rome he reached out to people he suspected might be friendly” as do other Americans, according to Allen.

Horowitz wrote: “Just weeks ago, the pope stripped Cardinal Burke of his remaining institutional influence after a scandal exploded at the Knights of Malta …. The pope had removed the order’s grand master after he showed disobedience to the pope. There was a sense in the order that the grand master followed the lead of Cardinal Burke because he projected authority, a power that stemmed in part from his support by the Trump administration, one influential knight said.”

The “scandal” occurred this past Dec. 6 when Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing dismissed Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager. According to the on-the-record statements by Festing  and Boeselager, Burke had nothing to do with their years-long feud.

Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate, Communications Director for the Knights of Malta, “explained that since the Order functions more like a State that has diplomatic relations with the Holy See, Cardinal Burke, who serves as a quasi-ambassador, is not involved in decisions made by their hierarchy.” “How would he be involved?” Robbiate asked, explaining that “like any other ambassador, the cardinal has no voice” on the internal decisions of their leaders.

(In the latest news,  Grand Commander Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, appointed by Pope Francis as interim leader of the Knights after the pope removed Festing and reinstated Boeselager, said on Feb. 14 that it was Burke not Festing who demanded Boeselager’s resignation.)

Mattingly, citing additional portions of the article, concludes: “The bottom line: It is very rare to see such sweeping, conspiratorial language used in a news feature that – on its key points of fact – appears to have one crucial named source …. It is clear that the Times reporter is serving as a scribe for [Benjamin] Harnwell,” founder and president of the board of trustees of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) located in Rome.

Burke’s “power”from “support by the Trump Administration”

Horowitz previously wrote that Bannon does have access to Vatican information. Thomas Williams was chosen by Bannon as Breitbart’s Rome bureau chief in 2014. Formerly a priest and publisher in the conservative religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, Williams left in 2013 to marry the daughter of theocon  Mary Ann Glendon, Bush 43’s ambassador to the Vatican and appointed by Pope Francis to the Vatican Bank’s board of supervisors. That the second most powerful man in the Vatican, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, ordained 36 Legionaries of Christ in December is evidence that the Legionaries are “totally supported” by the pope.

“While both Harnwell and Williams are well-informed about Roman happenings, both probably would be the first to concede they’re no kind of Vatican heavyweights in a position to broker backdoor deals between the White House and a cabal of dissident cardinals,” noted Vatican reporter Allen. And Bannon “surely would have to know that Burke is hardly positioned to be helpful,” Allen concluded.

Another experienced Vatican reporter, Andrea Tornielli, considered “close” to the pope because he was asked to co-author the pontiff’s first book, also opines that it is “unlikely that Trump would move towards the Vatican through Cardinal Burke …. In the U.S., the cardinal that the new president has known the best is the Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan.”

Rigging the Vatican Synod

“The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” is a book “asserting that Pope Francis and his supporters railroaded opponents,” Horowitz wrote. Because this is so important to not only the Washington Post article, but also to all the other staggeringly dishonest reporting about Burke, it deserves more explanation.

The procedures for the October 2015 synod should have been written by bishops chosen by their confreres. Instead, Pope Francis wrote them himself. Thirteen cardinals – including those from New York, Toronto, Sydney and the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but not Burke – wrote a letter to the pope. Among their objections were “the lack of input by the synod fathers” and that the procedures were “designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”

When the 2015 synod ended, the bishops voted 190 to 64 on the question of whether communion for civilly remarried Catholics should be left to private consultation with their priest or bishop. “As written, however, it’s not entirely clear.” Traditionalists saw this as the majority of attendees being against changing the Church’s doctrine.

Pope Francis accused the bishops who voted against liberalizing the doctrine of having “closed hearts,” “blinkered viewpoints,” judging “sometimes with superiority and superficiality,” being cowardly and “burying their heads in the sand.” The simmering dislike that traditionalists harbored for Pope Frances was now “civil war” according to a traditional journalist.

Pope Francis released his “apostolic exhortation” Amoris Laetitia in April 2016. The document only inferred that the civilly remarried could receive communion under the guidance of a priest or bishop.

Endless discussion ensued and is still going on. Prelates, priests and theologians around the world lined up in one corner or the other. Four cardinals, one of whom was Burke, “asked Pope Francis five dubia questions, or ‘doubts,’ about [Amoris] in a bid to clear up ambiguities and confusion surrounding the text. On Nov. 14 they went public with their request after they learned that the Holy Father had decided not to respond to their questions.” If the pope refused to clarify the matter, then “a formal act of correction” within the parameters of Church tradition could be sought.

Pope Francis responded by stating these cardinals have “a nasty spirit in order to sow division” and are psychologically “born from something missing, from trying to hide one’s own sad dissatisfaction behind a kind of armor.” He warned that they are a “cancer of the Church” in pursuit of glory rooted in “the logic of ambition and power.”

Washington Post

How Pope Francis can cleanse the far-right rot from the Catholic Church” by Emma-Kate Symons dated Feb. 9 is immeasurably worse than the Times article.

She began: “Cardinal Raymond ‘Breitbart’ Burke” is “the United States’ most influential Catholic in Rome.” The most influential American in the Vatican is Opus Dei’s Greg Burke, former correspondent for Fox News, promoted by Pope Francis to replace the last remaining Jesuit official in the Vatican as head of his Press Office.

Symons slogged on: Burke “is using his position within the walls of the Vatican” (she later acknowledges he has no position in the Vatican*) to lead “a far-right, neo-fascist-normalizing cheer squad out of the Holy See” and “a conservative wing that wants to reassert white Christian dominance.” She provided no evidence.

The Dignitatis Humanae Institute is not a “Vatican operation” and, therefore, cannot be “shut down” by the pope as Symons suggested. “The institute’s top office-bearers” are not “Burke and his henchmen” if you check their website.  “Excommunication isn’t in the cards” for Burke because he’s not a heretic Symons declared. Yet Pope Francis excommunicated Fr. Greg Reynolds because he supported women’s ordination and Martha Holzer, leader of the group “We Are Church,” for hosting Mass in her home with no priest present.

Symons refered to the Knights of Malta “spat over its humanitarian wing’s alleged distribution of condoms,” an assertion refuted by Boeselager. The grand chancellor, who was head of that program, said that he feels “bound by the teachings of the Church,” and that to “contrive an accusation” that he did not acknowledge the Church’s teaching on sexuality was “absurd.”

Church teaching forbids the use of condoms. This was confirmed by Pope Francis and his UN ambassador, Archbishop Bernardino Auza, who told UN officials that the Vatican “reaffirms its well-known position” concerning “contraception” and “condom use” as morally unacceptable.

Symons wrote the “Vladimir Putin-excusing” Burke was “very satisfied” with Putin’s “defense of life and family.” It is Pope Francis who has formed an alliance with the Russian president. “Moscow was pleased after Francis opposed a proposed U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, a key Russian ally.” “Did the Pope just kiss Putin’s ring?” was the title of The Economist report on the February 2016 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Francis made clear in his interview before the meeting that on certain issues he agrees with Mr. Putin and disagrees with America and its allies …. The joint declaration issued after the meeting hewed close to the Kremlin’s positions on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine [and] deplores ‘hostility’ in Ukraine, but omits any mention of Russia’s role, casting it as an internal struggle.” The declaration also included a denouncement of same-sex marriage. And Putin “takes the position held by Pope Francis that ‘tolerance of gender choice [transgender] results from a Western imperial ideology.’”

Symons stated “Burke and his henchmen” are “encouraging” the National Front’s Marion Le Pen and Burke “shares much in common with vicious anti-Semitism.” But it is Pope Francis who has been seeking reconciliation with the anti-Semitic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) since 2014. (The society has been considered “schismatic” since 1988.) The SSPX “has fully embraced far-right politics.”

“Ideological warfare split the Vatican in the 1930s” Symons wrote. The term clerical fascism refers to the fact that the Vatican and other Catholic leaders initiated or supported European fascist parties which seized power in the 1920s and 30s. In addition to Mussolini, dictatorships and political movements involving elements of clerical fascism and supported by the Holy See include Francisco Franco in Spain, António Salazar in Portugal, Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria, Jozef Tiso in Slovakia, the Croation Ustaše, Hungary’s Iron Cross Party, the Rexists in Belgium and Vichy France.

Even in Lutheran Germany, Ludwig Kaas, a priest and close adviser to Pius XI’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII), and Franz von Papen, a Catholic nobleman, played key roles in getting the Enabling Act passed on March 23, 1933. This legislation granted Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers. Both men were also consultants to Pacelli in negotiating the Reichskonkordat, the treaty between the Holy See and Hitler signed on July 23, 1933. “The concordat offered a rock-solid basis on which Church and State could carry on their affairs amicably and profitably for the Church.” (Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War, p159)

Yes, Burke met with Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing Northern League, identified by only 13.7% of Italians as their preferred party. Their Feb. 3 meeting lasting an hour and a half was first reported by Faro di Roma. The article included a recent interview in which Burke praised Trump for being anti-abortion and supporting “the irreplaceable good of religious freedom” i.e. the ability to deny healthcare to women and discriminate against LGBTQ persons and still receive government funding. The cardinal also spoke about immigration using similar phrases as Pope Francis. “Migration is a right, but one which is highly regulated,” the pope said. Politicians should be very open to receiving refugees, “but they should also calculate how they will be able to settle them” and the number accepted should be restricted accordingly, according to the pope.

Symons’ assertion that “The pope seems on a collision course with a Trump-Bannon White House” is currently misinformed.

So far, Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin congratulated Trump the day after the election. Parolin said the first issue on which the Vatican would collaborate with Trump was peace. The second was “the internal [domestic] issues” of the U.S. Church such was “religious freedom.”  Parolin added that “the future leader has already spoken like a leader.” Giving Trump the benefit of any doubt, “Let’s see how the president acts,” Parolin said. “It seems premature to make judgments.”

Vatican reporter Tornielli began his Feb. 12 article, “Trump and the Vatican, a relationship to be built,” by quoting the only words Pope Francis has said directly about Trump: “We will see what he does and will judge.” Tornielli noted “anti-abortion policies” and “other possible agreements [like] the less exclusionary approach with Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” are areas of possible collaboration between the pope and the Trump administration.

“To date no audience request has come from the White House to the Vatican” but “upon request, the doors will of course be open,” Tornielli wrote. But if world opinion of Trump continues to deteriorate, doors will close and the Vatican and pope will get off the fence.

It should be clear that the U.S. media has not been honest in reporting on Pope Francis as well as Cardinal Burke. Outside this country, the Dalai Lama is the most admired religious figure in the world. While his two predecessor’s took victory laps in their native countries soon after their papal election, Pope Francis has made four trips to Latin America without stepping foot in Argentina.


* It was reported on Feb. 15 that Burke “in fulfilling the office of judge” was sent to Guam to talk with the accusers of Archbishop Anthony Apuron. Pope Francis replaced Apuron as archbishop of Guam last October because he was accused of sexually abusing four boys and is now the subject of a Vatican trial.

Apuron was tracked down and found to be living in California.

After being informed of their alleged crimes, Pope Francis has allowed Apuron, two other credibly accused prelates and a priest to remain free men, that we know of. The pope was informed about Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo of Ayacucho, Peru, in May 2013. Miranda’s whereabouts remain unknown. The pope was informed about his ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, in July 2013. Wesolowski was arrested 14 months later. Victims of Fr. Nicola Corradi wrote a letter to the Pope Francis in December 2013 telling him that Corradi sexually abused deaf children in Italy. Pope Frances did nothing. Corradi was arrested three years later for sexually abusing deaf children in Argentina.


Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (2009) and “Duped by the Media on Pope Francis, Progressives Wonder How Republicans Get Elected” (2014)

2 Responses

  1. Good data. No fabricated truth here. Thanks Betty!



  2. Pope shows mercy to the child abusers?
    My comment?
    Take every bad word you have ever heard and apply to those ‘less than human’ beings.

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