Gays, Murderers, Remarried Catholics All the Same Says Catholic Cardinal

Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Lifesite News has a nearly 5,000 word interview with a traditionalist Cardinal about Catholic controversies and doctrine, which a Religion News Service headline remarkably distilled down to "Cardinal Raymond Burke: Gays, remarried Catholics, murderers are all the same."

This characterization of Burke's supposed view was quickly echoed in Huffington Post and the liberal Twittersphere.
Here's the actual Lifesite News interview text on which the RNS headline is based:

LSN: Among the viewpoints of Cardinal Kasper and, more recently, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, and others, was the consideration that "faithful" homosexuals, "remarried" divorcees and non-married couples show qualities of self-sacrifice, generosity and dedication that cannot be ignored. But through their choice of lifestyle, they are in what must be seen by outsiders as an objective state of mortal sin: a chosen and prolonged state of mortal sin. Could you remind us of the Church's teaching on the value and merit of prayer and good actions in this state?

CB: If you are living publicly in a state of mortal sin there isn't any good act that you can perform that justifies that situation: the person remains in grave sin. We believe that God created everyone good, and that God wants the salvation of all men, but that can only come about by conversion of life. And so we have to call people who are living in these gravely sinful situations to conversion. And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.

LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?

CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…

Judge for yourself whether the RNS headline is justified. My own view is that the characterization is distorting and snarky of a sort that is common towards religious traditionalists. Cardinal Burke and kindred spirits, whether Protestant or Catholic, are stereotyped and lampooned as buffoonish reactionaries who dare to dissent from the spirit of the age.

As a theologian, if asked, doubtless Burke would articulately explain that murder as a sin is of a different order than sexual immorality, although both are grave. He obviously cited murder as an example only for the sake of stark clarity. Should the Church be permissive towards a murderer because he is nice?

The RNS story reports that Catholicism teaches that "sin is sin," which is true for all orthodox Christianity, which warns that all sin, even if minor by earthly standards, still separates humanity from God's perfection and holiness. Hence all stand in equal need of divine forgiveness and grace.

Christianity is the most democratic, egalitarian, humbling force in the world because it teaches that all are equally sinful, unworthy, and needing divine forgiveness. No one really easily takes to this message because everyone in their pride prefers belief in their own superiority. At least we are not as bad as others!

In our own secular, relativistic age, moral and spiritual superiority are established by having politically correct views on issues like the environment, with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, hardly a proponent of moral absolutes, recently denouncing climate change skepticism as sinful.

Superiority is also achieved by contempt and mockery for cultural dissidents, like Cardinal Burke, who adhere to a transcendent authority beyond The New York Times editorial page or the latest chatter on "The View."

Religious traditionalists like Burke at least offer a plan to all for redemption, even for murderers. Secularized political correctness offers no such hope, instead just demanding accelerated dogmatism, intolerance for any challenge, increased activism, and substituting smug ridicule for reasoned argument.

In the long term, transcendence and hope prevail over transitory cultural fads. But advocates for the former need patience, courage and constancy in every age.

Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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