"Well, it’s been a very fast-moving year,"
Cardinal Burke told CNA in his Roman apartment just yards from the
Vatican, where he serves as head of the Church's highest
"But, it’s been a very good year, I'd have to
say. And I’ve certainly come to understand more fully what it is to
give this service to the Holy Father and hope that I am doing it
The College of Cardinals consists of the men
considered the Pope’s closest aides, giving counsel and assistance
to the pontiff when needed. It currently has under 200 members, with
only 115, those under age 80, eligible to elect a future
Cardinal Burke, 63, has had a remarkable journey from
America's rural Midwest—where he grew up as the youngest of six
children—to his current post as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of
the Apostolic Signatura.
"I never dreamed of it, to be
honest with you," he said, reflecting on God's guidance of his
path to the Vatican.
"I grew up, thanks be to God, in a
very good Catholic home," he recalled. "We were small dairy
farmers in Wisconsin, which was a very common situation in that part
of the world. But I see how God has been at work all along, and I
marvel at it."
While much has changed since those days,
his life as a cardinal is "not unrelated to what my parents were
trying to teach me from the time I was little."
the truth of the matter is that the older I get, the more I
appreciate those first lessons that were taught to me, that early
formation in the faith."
After 14 years leading dioceses
in Wisconsin and Missouri, Cardinal Burke was chosen in 2008 to head
the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, often called the
"Supreme Court" of the Catholic Church.
I've done whatever's been asked of me," he said, "I’ve
always found a happiness in my work as a priest, and I continue to
find that today."
A patriot with an obvious love for the
United States, the Rome-based cardinal remains invested in the
struggle for his country's culture.
"It is a war,"
he stated, describing the battle lines between "a culture of
secularization which is quite strong in our nation," and "the
Christian culture which has marked the life of the United States
strongly during the first 200 years of its history."
says it is "critical at this time that Christians stand up for
the natural moral law," especially in defense of life and the
"If Christians do not stand strong, give a strong
witness and insist on what is right and good for us both as and
individuals and society," he warned, "this secularization
will in fact predominate and it will destroy us."
Burke favors realism over pessimism, and believes "things are
getting better" in America, particularly among the young.
think that sometimes the young people understand much better the
bankruptcy of a totally secularized culture because they’ve grown
up with it," he observed.
Many youth "have seen
their families broken" and "have been exposed to all the
evils of pornography," leading them to conclude that the
secularization project "is going nowhere and that it will
destroy them" if left unchecked.
But the cardinal also
thinks persecution may be looming for the U.S. Church.
I think we’re well on the way to it," he said, pointing to
areas of social outreach - such as adoption and foster care - where
the Church has had to withdraw rather than compromise its
This trend could reach a point where the Church,
"even by announcing her own teaching," is accused of
"engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on
Asked if he could envision U.S.
Catholics ever being arrested for preaching their faith, he replied:
"I can see it happening, yes."
The Vatican's top
judge takes a dim view of self-professed Catholic politicians who
oppose the Church on key moral issues.
Among them is U.S.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, currently
seeking to force most of the country's employers, including Catholic
institutions, to cover contraception and sterilization in employee
"To the degree to which (Sebelius)
proclaims herself to be a practicing Catholic, she is very wrong,"
said Cardinal Burke. He sees it as "simply incomprehensible"
for a Catholic to "support the kind of measures that she is
The cardinal says America’s 2012 election
will be "very significant."
Catholics, he said,
"have a serious duty to vote and to try and find the best
candidate to elect." And some "good and solid,
right-thinking individuals" may even be called to run for public
Above all, the cardinal hopes for a "new
evangelization" of the United States - starting with faithful
families, strong religious education, and reverent liturgical
The family, he noted, is where a child "first
learns the truths of the faith, first prayers, first practices his or
her life in Christ." But the Mass itself is the "source of
our solid teaching, of our solid witness," and also "the
most beautiful and fullest expression we give to that
Cardinal Burke is also responsible for
overseeing the Church's liturgy as a member of the Vatican's
Congregation for Divine Worship.
He is grateful to Blessed
John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for giving the Church "a font
of solid direction" regarding worship, based on the Second
Vatican Council's vision of a "God-centered liturgy and not a
That intention was not always
realized, he said, since the council's call for liturgical reform
coincided with a "cultural revolution."
congregations lost their "fundamental sense that the liturgy is
Jesus Christ himself acting, God himself acting in our midst to
Cardinal Burke said greater access to the
traditional Latin Mass, now know as the "extraordinary form"
of the Roman rite, has helped correct the problem.
celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form is now less and
less contested," he noted, "and people are seeing the great
beauty of the rite as it was celebrated practically since the time if
Pope Gregory the Great" in the sixth century.
Catholics now see that the Church's "ordinary form" of
Mass, celebrated in modern languages, "could be enriched by
elements of that long tradition."
In time, Cardinal Burke
expects the Western Church's ancient and modern forms of Mass to be
combined in one normative rite, a move he suggests the Pope also
"It seems to me that is what he has in mind is
that this mutual enrichment would seem to naturally produce a new
form of the Roman rite – the 'reform of the reform,' if we may –
all of which I would welcome and look forward to its
Cardinal Burke's main role, however, is to
uphold the Church's legal system. He describes canon law as "the
fundamental discipline which makes possible our life in the Church,"
since it is "not a society of angels" but a communion of
men and women who require norms for living.
that canon law fell out of fashion beginning in the late 1960s,
during a period where many Catholics bristled at the notion of such
"The whole euphoria that set in within society –
and in the Church itself – was that this was the age of freedom,
the age of love, and so, in those years nobody talked anymore about
‘sin,’ this was considered to be negative talk."
since "human nature didn’t actually change," the "lack
of attention to discipline and to law" produced a great deal of
One consequence, the cardinal believes,
was the mishandling of clerical abuse accusations.
there’s no question in my mind about that," said Cardinal
Burke. He pointed out that both the 1917 and 1983 canon law codes put
"a discipline in place" to confront an "evil" the
Church had faced before.
"All of that was in place,"
he reflected, "but, first of all, it wasn’t known in the sense
that people were not studying the law, were not paying attention to
it, and so, if it wasn’t known or studied then it wasn’t being
Historically, he believes, it was an
"unfortunate coincidence" that a cultural upheaval
accompanied Blessed Pope John XXIII’s call for a reform of canon
"This added to the notion that we didn’t really
have a law anymore – then the attitude developed that we don’t
Bl. John Paul II resolved the situation after
his election in 1978, implementing a new code of law by 1983.
Cardinal Burke remains "deeply grateful" for the late
Since he is a cardinal, he could someday cast
his vote for a future Pope. But could divine providence ever call the
son of a Midwestern farming family to the papacy himself?
I don’t believe so," Cardinal Burke laughed.
hope that the present Holy Father lives a long time. He’s a
tremendous gift to the Church and that’s my great prayer – that
the Lord gives him many more years."
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, one of the
Catholic Church's top U.S.-born clerics, is marking the first
anniversary of his November 2010 elevation to the Sacred College of