Cardinal Burke: An Appreciation

[Editor’s note: As Raymond Cardinal Burke continues his fight against COVID-19, his friends and admirers felt moved to put together this little symposium in his honor. We hope that it will inspire the faithful to continue praying fervently for his good health, both physical and spiritual. We also hope that it will hearten Cardinal Burke and hasten his recovery. God bless you, Your Eminence, and get well soon.]

I join in offering prayer, Mass, and fasting with good Catholic people all over the world for the quick recovery of Cardinal Burke—a dear friend, former professor, and inspiration of mine for almost forty years. Having known His Eminence as a friend and teacher going back to the years I studied in Rome (when he was Monsignor Burke), I have always been inspired by his charity, intelligence, humility and sheer goodness coupled with his simple, child-like devotion to our Lord, our Blessed Mother, and all the saints.

I remember when I became a bishop. He was Bishop of La Crosse then and was conducting a retreat for a group of nuns at the time of my episcopal ordination, but willingly skipped one day of the retreat to fly to San Diego, serve as a co-consecrator, and then fly back to La Cross.  For him, no sacrifice is too great to show kindness to others.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

I thank God that He has given me such an outstanding model of priesthood, which has been for me both an anchor and a goal as I strive for ever greater fidelity in responding to my own priestly calling.

— Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco

We are wholeheartedly grateful to Divine Providence that, in one of the darkest times in history, He gave His Church Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who is a true adornment of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

In his shining service as bishop and cardinal, he selflessly works for the preservation and defense of the Divine Deposit of the Catholic faith, especially in relation to the sacraments of Marriage and the Eucharist and through the celebration of the traditional liturgy, which is a treasure that belongs to all saints and to the Church of all time—a sacred treasure of which no fallible administrative ordinances, even at the highest levels of the Church, can rob us.

Cardinal Burke remains a light and support for many priests and faithful in the current battle for the treasure of the faith and the liturgy. It is a consoling sign that God is not abandoning His Church in the most difficult hours, as long as there are in our day churchmen like Cardinal Burke. May this fill us with courage and hope.

Cardinal Burke makes a truly great contribution to the renewal of the Church through his present illness, to which the inscrutable and yet loving counsel of Divine Providence has called him. We thank Cardinal Burke for setting the example, worthy of a cardinal, of the virtues of courage, fortitude, and suffering for the Church. We have in him a cardinal according to the Heart of Jesus and we implore the Sacred Heart of Jesus to keep him for long fruitful years of service in the holy Church.

— Bishop Athanasius Schneider

In 1996, as Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, the Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke invited the recently established Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to found its first apostolate in the United States. His fatherly support for the Institute made possible the full-scale restoration of St. Mary’s Oratory in Wausau which he consecrated in 2003. As Archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Burke entrusted St. Francis de Sales Oratory to the Institute in 2004. Since 1999, Cardinal Burke has been a very active spiritual father to the Institute, ordaining many dozens of its priests, presiding over numerous ceremonies for the Sisters Adorers and the clerical Oblates, as well as administering the Sacrament of Confirmation to hundreds of the faithful in its apostolates.

Having had so many providential opportunities to work under His Eminence’s direction and to collaborate closely with him on multiple endeavors for the good of the Church, the superiors and members of the Institute have been very blessed to see firsthand that Cardinal Burke is a faithful and loving shepherd of souls as well as a devoted son of the Sovereign Pontiff as the Successor of St. Peter. His devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, exemplified by his episcopal motto Secundum Cor Tuum, coupled with his dedication to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and of the unborn, and to St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, have been the spiritual source of his statements and activities to foster and promote Catholic doctrine and life with clarity, fidelity, and charity.

The worldwide spiritual family of the Institute—including its superiors, clergy, sisters, and lay members of the Society of the Sacred Heart—are immensely thankful and wholeheartedly grateful to Cardinal Burke for His Eminence’s presence, guidance, and paternity for over twenty-six years. As the Cardinal continues to recover from this illness, His Eminence is most affectionately remembered day and night in our Masses, prayers, and devotions for the intention of his timely and complete recovery. Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, we place our full confidence and trust in the benevolent Providence of Our Blessed Lord Jesus, Christ the King.

— Canon Matthew Talarico, provincial superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke is a man of iron principle—and of intense prayer. A bona fide Roman holy man. A towering canonist. A fearless defender of orthodoxy. A champion of our liturgical patrimony. A churchman who understands that ritual and beauty should never be distant. But it’s his fundamental gentility and decency that most touches the heart. So far from the caricature painted by the claque of philistines who cover Rome for the secular and Catholic press, this prince of the Church and son of Wisconsin doesn’t fail to put friends and even strangers at ease, notwithstanding his high ecclesiastical station, and, in this way, to radiate the sweet odor of Christ. I pray that our Lady of Guadalupe, to whom he has such special devotion, wraps him in her mantle in this hour of need.

Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post

I once joked with Cardinal Burke that “we seem to be on the same vaudeville circuit.” He smiled. For a couple years running we shared the speakers’ dais at several conferences. I was always the warmup act. He was the main event.

But he treated me like mine was the most important and urgently needed voice on God’s green earth. Every time I returned from the podium to the table we shared, he engaged some point from my talk and thanked me for making it. He acted like I was the star—a point I was willing and able to believe… until the moment I heard the ovation that greeted the Cardinal’s presence at the same podium.

It’s so strange that this man should be cast in headlines as rebellious, contentious, and scheming. His talks are hardly rabblerousing. He doesn’t go in for flash and dazzle. Instead he delivers careful, methodical, charitable exercises in scholastic method. They stand out for me because they could have been yanked from one of the old seminary manuals. Until I met Cardinal Burke, I had not heard talks like these since the Servant of God Father John Hardon, S.J., retired from the circuit. The only scheme I could detect in them was the one I recognized from every single article of the Summa. In the speeches I heard he was consistently generous to those with whom he disagreed. I have never heard him cast anyone as an enemy.

I too have experienced his generosity, though I’ve never been his opponent. Twice my friends and I asked him to say Mass in Rome for groups we were hosting, and twice he said yes. At that time he was Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest judicial authority after the pope himself. Think of him as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the cosmos—and then imagine how busy he was. I’m nobody from nowhere, but he gave kind attention to everyone in both groups. I instantly became their hero.

In those years on the circuit, my son usually traveled with me. He owns my book business, and he tended it before and after my talks. The Cardinal observed our interactions over time, and once he took me aside and told me I should be grateful to have a traveling companion who loved me and wanted my good in every situation. He couldn’t have known—could he?—that my son and I had just finished one of those parent-child exchanges that leave both parties feeling awful for days.

Since that moment I’ve tried to keep the focus on gratitude.

Though I’ve been privileged to spend time with Cardinal Burke, I can’t say I know him well. He’s always struck me as shy, and so am I. It would be difficult, to say the least, for us to become drinking buddies. But this much I know: he does not hesitate to say the things that he believes must be said.

Sometimes they’re hard sayings—because those are the things that need saying, and no one else is daring to say them.

We Catholics often say we welcome civil disagreement. Then, when we actually get it, our thin skin breaks out in a rash from the mild criticism. Cardinal Burke has modeled respectful engagement in the great public conversations. He patiently responds to those who rashly question the pope’s motives or authority (or even his legitimacy as pope)—and he shows them where their logic leads. He shows the same respect in the questions he poses to the pope.

If the headlines don’t reflect this, it’s not his fault.

— Mike Aquilina, vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke coat of arms reads, Secundum Cor Tuum. It is based upon a promise the Lord makes in the Book of Jeremiah: “I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.” (Jer. 3:15)

In my view, Cardinal Raymond Burke is precisely what our Lord had in mind when He spoke to and through Jeremiah. In the nearly twenty years I have known His Eminence—as an employee of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a friend, and most recently his press secretary—I have been a witness to His Eminence faithfully living out that motto, often at his own reputation’s expense.

Winston Churchill once quipped, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.” Scroll through social media and you will see Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke has enemies. Even now, as he suffers from COVID, the vile comments found on both secular and Catholic sites are rearing their nasty little heads. They tend to come from people who have never even met the Cardinal, who have been swayed by what they read in the various secular and Catholic publications that have cast aspersion on him over the years.

In person, they would find he is both paternal and avuncular. They will find he remembers them and, perhaps, recalls a special intention for which they requested prayers.

Then there are those of us who have been gifted richly by God the honor of working directly with His Eminence or the privilege of calling him a friend. We are the people who have been recipients of and witnesses to Cardinal Burke’s charming good nature, his brilliant mind, his love of and devotion to Holy Mother Church, his ferocity in defending the Faith, his sharp and endearing sense of humor, his love of his family, his appreciation for the verdant land his family farmed, his clarity and steadfastness when teaching the tenets of the Catholic Faith, his compassion for those who suffer, his understanding of the importance of the relationship between the classical transcendentals and God Himself, his defense of the inviolability of life, his kindhearted teasing, his desire for the good of every person, his deep, deep love of Our Lord and His Most Blessed Mother, his hope for the salvation of all souls, and his ardent desire that everyone (in the words of the old Baltimore Catechism) come to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

His Eminence once said, “I know that I have to give an account to our Lord, and I want to be able to say to Him that even if I made mistakes, I tried to defend Him, to serve Him.” As someone humbled to have been the Cardinal’s servant, I would not hesitate to say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

— Elizabeth Westhoff, chief marketing and communications officer for the Ave Maria School of Law

It was during the synod on the family that I first came into contact with Cardinal Burke.

I had just published commentary in First Things on how Hegel’s evolutionary philosophy had harmed modern Catholic thinking on the nature of divine and pastoral mercy. Famously for Hegel, God is not God without the world—which is to say that God becomes Himself through His creation. This heretical notion became surprisingly widespread and even accepted among twentieth-century theologians and pastors who began to think of divine and pastoral mercy along similar lines.

The Catholic Church teaches that divine mercy flows from the side of Jesus Christ who is on a rescue mission to save us from our sins, not to help us feel affirmed in them. The synod fathers who advocated that the Church “evolve” in order to accompany people in their sins were, I argued, not missionaries of mercy but rather just accidental Hegelians who offered only false mercy to families who desperately needed the real thing.

I had just lost my father to a heart attack when I wrote those words about the synod, so when His Eminence reached out to me through a mutual friend to praise my analysis—to say yes, exactly, we need real mercy, real salvation from sin and death—I was extraordinarily moved. It wasn’t just an “attaboy” from a prince of the Church, but from a dad. Later, he would commission me to write a longer essay on the same topic for a book he was editing, which was a great and utterly unexpected honor.

I was in awe of his great intellect, his crisp orthodoxy, his reverent precision in praising God. I scoffed at his detractors who treated him as if he were a wax figure wrapped in baroque cloth. Yet I had had a picture of Cardinal Burke that was simply the heroic flipside of the same wax figure. I saw in him a great defender of the faith, a giant doing battle for truth on the global stage. And who doesn’t want a father like that? But every time I dined with him in person, in Washington and in Rome, I was moved all over again with the same impression which challenged the image I had built up in my mind. The wax figure repeatedly collapsed whenever he shook my hand with warmth, whenever I watched him treat everyone with an undeserved familiarity and respect, whenever he laughed. Behold the man!

I came to see that it wasn’t only his detractors who had gotten Cardinal Burke wrong. It was also me. I loved the image of a champion. But what I had discovered was that his real greatness was his humility, his purity, and—I hasten to add—his holiness. Such greatness can only be the gift of God’s real mercy, which flows from the side of Jesus Christ, which is poured out for us in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Though it took me awhile, I finally figured out that his greatness wasn’t due to his Midwestern charm, or his commanding intellect, though God has used both. His greatness comes from his conformity to Jesus Christ.

Now Cardinal Burke is in his hour of greatest need, and writers are asked to write appreciations—for when he climbs down from this cross, we hope. We beg for mercy, for rescue. As I pray and fast for His Eminence, I cannot stop thinking about the greatness of his humility and his holiness. His love of Jesus Christ, his adherence to the Faith, his defense of the Church’s eternal teachings and laws, his passion for the greatest possible reverence in the Church’s liturgy, his care for the salvation of souls, his spiritual paternity, all bear witness to the grandeur of one who trusts in the endless mercy of Jesus Christ, and who lives mercifully towards others. That’s the kind of spiritual father we all want to stay with us. And I pray to God he will.

— C. C. Pecknold, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America

The global lockdowns in response to COVID-19 have offered a chance for bishops to show their mettle—or, as the case of many, their lack thereof. From the beginning, Cardinal Raymond Burke has been an exception.

His Eminence has denounced how governments and other “leaders” have used the crisis as a pretense to increase their power and limit our religious freedom. In one powerful sermon last December, he called out “Marxist materialism” and cited Klaus Schwab’s ominous call for a “Great Reset” of the global economy. He knew from the start that the pandemic panic was about far more than a respiratory virus.

Cardinal Burke was never afraid to stand out even among men with red hats. In the face of gale-force headwinds from the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has dared to voice moral concerns about the use of abortion-derived cells in the testing and development of several COVID-19 vaccines. He has also opposed lockdowns (which do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus) and, more recently, vaccine mandates.

For his trouble, he’s been attacked and misrepresented from the likes of “Catholics for Choice.” Their recent press release supposedly calling for prayers for Burke is something to behold. But the press release denounces him as an anti-vaxxer, a conspiracy theorist, an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ “extremist.”

Catholics for Choice feigns a show of concern. The many swarms of internet trolls don’t bother. They think it’s deliciously ironic that Cardinal Burke, a critic of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, should now be seriously ill with COVID-19.

It’s not ironic. It shows instead that he has skin in the game. After all, he has known since spring 2020 that he is at much higher risk than average of dying from COVID-19. Indeed, demographically, he’s a thousand times more likely to die from infection with the coronavirus than those under twenty.

In other words, he had strong ecclesial, social, and medical incentives to capitulate or at least keep quiet. But he did not.

The outpouring of hatred toward him is no mere disagreement over his views on health policy. They have about them the stench of sulfur. When reading the Catholics for Choice screed, I was reminded of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when men hate you and curse because of my name.”

Offer up a prayer for healing for Cardinal Burke. And don’t forget to thank God that there are such bishops who prefer the will of God to the praise of men.

— Jay Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute

Cardinal Burke was uniquely situated for this moment in the world and in the Church. He was born into the world and into the Church on the dangerous cusp. He came of age in the turbulent 1960s. He could smell the smoke from the ghetto riots in Washington DC. He may have seen the flames.

He was present at the teaching of modernist heresy at Catholic University of America. He was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI, made a bishop by John Paul II, raised to the Cardinalate by Benedict XVI. He became the first American Defender of the Bond of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and was eventually named the Prefect of the Church’s highest ecclesiastical court.

All of this is the say that he was uniquely prepared for the issues we face in the Church and in the world. One hopes that Cardinal Burke’s brush with death these past few days will have softened Pope Francis’s attitude towards him. Cardinal Burke has a great deal more to contribute to the modern Church.

All of this is to say that he was uniquely prepared for the issues we face in the Church and in the world. When he arises from his sick bed, let us pray that those in Rome come to their senses and realize what a treasure we have in Raymond Cardinal Burke.

— Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights

For the past quarter century and counting, I continue to treasure the privilege to collaborate with Cardinal Burke and build a close friendship. As a layman working throughout my to help uphold and defend Catholic teachings and families in our society, I could not have been more blessed to stand side-by-side with His Eminence along the way and to have his unwavering support, boldness, and inspiring example. It was through our personal interaction and friendship that I came to appreciate and understand the profound spiritual life and deep love of Holy Mother Church that Cardinal Burke possesses. This love is simply evident in his writings, speeches, lectures, retreats, homilies and in any other occasion he is carrying out his office as a teacher and defender of Church doctrine.

It was for these reasons combined with his most rare charitable manner and intellect that I approached him several years ago and raised the idea of publishing books. I offered the assistance of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, which he helped me found in 2006, to assume the integral role in carrying out various outreach initiatives.

For the books, I told him I would undertake all the work and details of publishing and distribution. He very innocently looked at me and asked, “Do you think anyone would be interested?” I said, “Yes, I do.” And, so, he agreed.

I suggested that his first book be on the Holy Eucharist. Those that misunderstood him beforehand—who said that he was too heavy-handed and not sufficiently pastoral in suggesting that public figures who openly give grave scandal and defy Church teachings should be denied Holy Communion—would come to know what I knew: that Cardinal Burke is so profoundly concerned about reverence and respect for the Most Holy Eucharist because of his profound love and devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

In his book Divine Love Made Flesh: The Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of Charity, Cardinal Burke examines and conveys the beauty and power of the Holy Eucharist, in light of the teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in such a way that it has helped many faithful readers develop a more profound devotion to the Holy Eucharist in their everyday lives.

This is who he is: a man of God, a prince of the Church, a pastor, a spiritual director, and a humble soul who only desires and works tirelessly to help others get to heaven.

— Thomas McKenna, president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family

My first photograph of us together was taken forty years ago on the roof of our graduate residence in Rome. I have two photographs taken in recent years and, in both, his aspect and posture are identical. This struck me as some sort of memento of his intractable stolidity in essential matters of the Faith.

When I had returned to Rome from North Africa with a bacterial infection, he sat by my sickbed condoling as best he could. I do not remember anything he said, but I know it had nothing to do with canon law.

He once declined my invitation to go running around the Borghese gardens, saying that he preferred to “concentrate on tone.” He certainly has laurels in the greater race set before him.

Fr. George William Rutler

A little over a year ago, just after my brother, Fr. Paul Check, took the helm of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, I made my way to Wisconsin’s unglaciated southwest for a few days to visit with him and the Shrine’s builder, Cardinal Burke.

I had met His Eminence once or twice, and he had given the keynote at Catholic Answers’ 2018 national conference. But it was during this visit to La Crosse that I came to know the generous heart and the altogether childlike faith of a man I had, to that point, known only as one of our age’s capital intellects. He is nothing less than a Wisconsin Juan Diego, a farm boy who said yes to Our Lady’s invitation to build a church on a hill so that she might reveal to the world her Son, His unfailing forgiveness and His perfect love.

We sat after dinner one evening, finishing our red wine. I was feeling its effects—to say nothing of the joy of being in the fraternal company of such a great man. It made me so bold as to propose to him: “Your Eminence, we are eleven years away from the 500th anniversary of the events of Tepeyac Hill. It seems to me that whatever you and my brother have planned for the Shrine between now and then, it must be done with that great celebration always in focus.”

Cardinal Burke nodded in agreement and offered, “Yes. And a great celebration it should be.” With a broad smile, he leaned in and added, “Don’t you think we should have fireworks?”

It was then I knew I was in the company of a saint, for the saints are possessed of something that our age of unbelief altogether misses. It is what G.K. Chesterton calls “the gift of wonder.” We all receive that gift as children, but only saints carry it in their hearts for their whole lives. It is joy in the presence of the delights of creation that derives from a joy of living life in the constant presence of Him through which that creation was made.

I am looking forward to 2031, and standing alongside His Eminence, delighting in the fireworks.

— Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers

[Photo credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA]


  • Crisis Magazine

    Crisis Magazine has been America’s leading source for Catholic perspectives on religion, politics, and culture since 1982.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...