Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is a man with a lot of enemies. The former archbishop of St. Louis, who once said supporters of abortion rights shouldn’t receive communion, became the highest-ranking American in the Vatican during the tenure of former Pope Benedict on the strength of unabashed conservatism. But as soon as Pope Francis arrived on the scene, that same conservatism turned divisive when Burke criticized Francis’s progressive policies.
For example, Burke, who headed the Vatican’s highest court of canon law, lampooned Francis in a Buzzfeed interview late last year. He said Francis had “done a lot of harm. … The pope is not free to change the church’s teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts.” Weeks later, the pope booted the rampaging cardinal, who had come to symbolize the so-called “Culture Wars” roiling the Vatican, demoting him to a ceremonial post with the charity group Knights of Malta.
At the time, many believed the demotion would in some ways empower the cardinal to take more vocal stances against what he perceives to be a wayward church. Those suspicions have now been realized.
Last week, Cardinal Raymond Burke delivered a whopper of a manifesto in an interview with something called “The Emangelization,” which seeks to restore a sense of manliness to men in the church. In the interview, Burke offered a lengthy meditation on what he perceives to be the problem with the modern church. Most of them began, he said, with the advent of the women’s rights movement during the 1960s, which pushed for female participation in the Catholic Church. He derided it as “radical feminism.”
When that happened, the “goodness and importance of men became very obscured,” which gave rise to a “very feminized” Church, he said: “There was a period of time when men who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity had entered the priesthood; sadly some of these disordered men sexually abused minors; a terrible tragedy for which the Church mourns.”
While he directs most of his ire at “radical feminists,” he also appears rankled by ordinary women doing ordinary Church activities. To him, that act alone constitutes the dangerous feminization of the Church that has alienated, disenchanted and made men sexually confused.
“Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women,” Burke continued. “The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved. Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.”
Most priests started off as altar boys, a position, he said, that “requires a certain manly discipline.” But then in 1983, the Church dropped its ban on girls serving as altar assistants. That move, Burke said, made young men uncomfortable and unwilling to participate in altar services, leading to an eventual shortage of priests. “The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service,” he told Emangelization. “Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time.”
That church decision was just one aspect of what Burke perceived as a nascent “radical feminist movement” that would lead the Church to “constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men … the critical impact of manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives men.”
Burke didn’t just see the changes inside the Church. He saw it everywhere. Men, thanks to women wanting equality, were scared. “Young men [were] telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time,” he told his interviewer, Matthew James Christoff. “These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of the constant and insistent demanding of rights of women. … Sadly, 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.”
And men had lots of serious issues, Burke said. Like addiction to pornography. And masturbation. “This is lethal for men, especially young men,” he said. “Young men may begin to engage in the sexual sin of masturbation. Men have told me that when they were teenagers, they confessed the sin of masturbation in the confessional and priests would say, ‘Oh, that’s nothing you should be confessing. Everybody does that.’ That’s wrong. These are sinful acts.”
Still, Burke expressed some optimism. He was pleased by the manliness of some new priests. “Our seminaries are beginning to attract many strong young men who desire to serve God as priests,” he said. “The new crop of young men are manly and confident about their identity. This is a welcome development.”
In all, it was a grave discussion between two men on the state of man, which ended with them congratulating each other for doing everything they can do for men.
“Matthew, I want to commend you,” Burke told the interviewer.
“Praise God,” Christoff replied.
Then they both laughed.