Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

October 31, 2008


"Judicial temperament" is an essential qualification to look for when an individual is being considered for a judgeship. It's definition, taken from various sources, uses the words: openmindedness, compassionate, sensitivity, courtesy, an understanding that what is at issue is important for those involved, an attitude of respect towards all whom the candidate will encounter, and patience.

Our Church has experienced three chapters in the abuse crisis: first, the damage to thousands of children, the numbers exponentially multiplied by secret reassignments of miscreants; secondly, $2 billion of contributions of the faithful for failure of responsible oversight; and thirdly, the injudicious handling of allegations under the flawed Dallas Charter, where a bishop simultaneously holds the incompatible roles of arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, sentencing judge and appellent bench. A revisiting of the Charter by the USCCB should be made immediately to preclude more innocent priests being removed from ministry.

Our Church might well revisit its present jurisprudence from the Charter level on up to the top: its structure and its characteristics. Is "judicial temperament" a consideration in the appointment of canonical judges? Would every bishop qualify for the multifold role given him by the Dallas Charter, a role from which there is no realistic appeal. Let's take a look at Archbishop, now Cardinal, Raymond H. Burke, who served as Bishop of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, then as Archbishop of St. Louis, and, recently, as Chief Judge of the Apostolic Signatura - the highest court of our Church. Its task is to insure that its decisions and those of lower courts are just, dispassionate, and cognizant of all interests at stake. and marked by the "judicial temperament" of the judges. What does the history of Cardinal Burke reveal ?

When bishop of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Burke wrote to a number of legislators. One of them, Catholic Congressman David Obey (D, Wisc.), wrote, "...he wrote to me, threatening to use his ecclesiastical authority to punish me if I did not conform my voting record to his view of what Catholic dogma required. I told him I could not do that". Burke directed his priests not to give Holy Communion to politicians who espoused pro-choice legislation. He would later say he would deny Communion to presidential candidate, John Kerry. In the widespread discussion about Holy Communion around the 2004 election period, he disparaged those bishops who disagreed with him as causing confusion. He ordered Catholics not to walk in the annual hunger walk, sponsored by Church World Service, because some of its proceeds provided condoms in developing countries.

As Archbishop of St. Louis, he ordered a Catholic medical center to disinvite singer Sheryl Crowe from performing at its annual fund raiser becaue she supported stem cell research. When the center's board rejected Burke's order, he resigned from the board. He ordered, successfully, a Catholic high school, to disinvite State Senator Clair McCaskill from speaking at her daughter's
graduation. He ordered, unsuccessfully, to have St. Louis University discipline basketball coach Rick Majerus, for his speaking at a pro choice rally. He ordered the Catholic Aids' Ministry not to participate in their annual AIDs' Walk because of its acceptance of sin. St. Stanislaus Koska parish had long been incorporated with a mostly lay Board of Directors. Burke's predeccessor archbishop had long fought to gain control of the church's property and mission, but within the circuit of the civil law and courts. Enter Burke with the thunder of interdict and excommunication. Sister of Charity Louise Lears, an effective pastoral associate at St. Cronan's parish, participated in a Women's Ordination Group ceremony, ordaining three women. Burke quickly leveled an interdict on her - prohibiting her from the sacraments - and banned her from any kind of activity in his archdiocese. He explained that this was done, "In the interest of the faithful faced with animosity and hatred shown toward the Apostolic See and a bishop". He said to her, "You will place in danger the eternal salvation of your soul and the souls of others". In the present political season, Burke has launched the thunderbolt, "The Democratic Party is the party of death".

Further qualities of a judge include a lack of intense emotion, reluctance to shoot from the hip without a judicial process, courtesy towards all, awareness of the rights of conscience, care not to be perceived as in favor of a particular political candidate, sensitive to the uncertain line between church and state. Well, there we have it. The Supreme Judge of the Church's Highest Court! He will see to it that bishops, acting in the competence given them by the Dallas Charter as cop, prosecutor, judge, sentencing judge, and appellent bench serve the cause of justice well because he too has exercised those roles and presently continues to be entrusted with them.

"Judicial temperament" and confidence in the rule of law, not the rule of men! God save this Honorable Court!