Piotr Słomski talks with cardinal Raymond Leo Burke

Recently in Szczecin cardinal Raymond Leo Burke has been a guest. He was a speaker during a conference entitled: ‘Marriage and family. The sources of crisis and ways out of difficulties’. This American priest, from Wisconsin state, was among the others, an archbishop of Saint Louis (2004 – 08) and a prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of Apostolic Signature in Rome (2008 – 14).

In 2013 he participated in a conclave which elected pope Francis. At present he is a patron of the Sovereign Maltese Order.

PIOTR SŁOMSKI: - What does the road of Priest Cardinal to priesthood look like? Who had an influence on Eminency then in this respect? CARDINAL RAYMOND BURKE: - Everything began at my home. My parents were good Catholics. I am the youngest of six children. My parents taught us faith with great consideration, as well as being closely related to the holy confession, Sunday Holy Mass. next, my spiritual formation was influenced by the parish life with an excellent priest Owen Mitchel, who inspired me a lot; he came from Ireland but was a priest in the USA. Beside the faith of my parents and the aforementioned priest, an important role was played by the Benedictine nuns at my school. All this inspired me. I felt a delight with priesthood at a very early age, after I received the First Holy Communion and began to serve at the Holy Mass at the age of 10.

Priest Cardinal received priestly ordination in 1975, from the hands of the very Paul VI in Rome. What was that event for Eminency in such unusual circumstances?

I treat receiving priestly ordination from the successor of St. Peter – beatified Paul VI as a particular gift from God. I also perceive it as a particular vocation in order to remain very close to the Holy See and defend the papal Magisterium. It has surely always been the essential part of my spiritual and priestly life.

About 30 years ago John Paul II appointed Priest Cardinal the first American defender of the marital knot of the Supreme Tribunal of Apostolic Signature. What result, in the opinion of Eminency will there be of the currently observed attempts to redefine marriage and tearing it off from its original vocation?

It will mean destruction of marriage. It will be a marriage according to a human intention, not a gift from God, given to people from the very creation of the world. It will surely destroy also family, and, consequently – the society. Therefore, I got engaged strongly in defending the truth about marriage, in these last years, as it is basic for the sake of not only individuals and the Church but also the whole society.

Priest Cardinal is known for his engagement for the sake of supporting liturgical tradition of the Church. What is the role of the mentioned tradition in the contemporary Church, in the opinion of Eminency?

The Holy Liturgy is the greatest expression of our life in the Church in Christ. Therefore it has beauty and magnificence which are very exceptional in the whole Christian life. At the end of his life, St. John Paul II fervently got devoted to bringing back dignity of the Holy Liturgy as God’s action, that is, not a kind of a human action, but reality in which very Christ descends onto the altars of our churches, in order to make himself sacramentally present, like He made a sacrifice on Calvary. So, for the Church liturgy is in the centre of new evangelization and also new energy and strength of the Church at our times.

When Priest Cardinal mentioned new evangelization, the person of archbishop Fulton Sheen came cross my mind, who was a pioneer of tele-evangelization, and grabbed the hearts of lots of tele-viewers in the USA years ago. What trends, in the opinion of Eminency, should new evangelization take on in our times?

I was brought up under influence of God’s servant archbishop Fulton Sheen who based on philosophical truths of faith in order to uncover their essence later, as well as layers of their spiritual richness and, certainly, the Holy Liturgy as a lively expression of these truths. He was excellent on TV. And, in fact, television was discovered at the times of his pastoral ministry. The truth is that it was one of the most popular TV programs in the USA then. It is worth noting especially because the United States is not a Catholic country, but despite that, every viewer was very interested in his way of presenting faith. At our times everything which means new evangelization, connects with the necessity of continued using these classical means of communication of faith, teaching catechesis to children, etc. but also Sunday harmony of living with God’s word is important: here I mean careful listening to a sermon. Also religious education of adults is essential, as well as using new media, the so-called social medias in order to communicate truths of faith to people, and it is also important to bring the Good News to more and more people who are waiting for the message of evangelical hope.

According to statistics, Poland is still a Catholic country. I will give you this example: it is a few years since a small village society in our region has been building their own church. When one looks at Europe, where even in small towns churches are pulled down, it grows to the rank of a symbol. What should the Polish nation and the Polish Church do in relation to it, in order not to lose this vigilance and nerve of Catholic faith?

You are really happy in Poland, that your country is still religious and stands out with the practice of religious life. I see it particularly from my experience – both in the USA and in Western Europe. So, what you should do, is not understand faith as reality, which is assured. I always look at faith as a valuable gift from God, which should be passed over to the next generations. Remember about paying particular attention to catechesis among children and young people, also teaching faith during Sunday sermons during the Holy Mass. It is necessary to watch out influences of secularization which are around us, because you are a part of the European Union, which is an atheistic reality, trying to introduce practices against God’s law and God himself. Poland will have to oppose to the policy aimed against family and life which is domineering in the European Union. And you can do it, but it will require particular attention. And there will be people who will speak in your society that it is important to be ‘more trendy’, that Poland is old-fashioned and must to open up to new ideas, but you should not pay attention to this kind of rhetoric at all. May everything be judged according to the truth. If you do so, you will see that your faith is the most important gift which God gave to you, and, in this way, it will be saved and have its reflection in the life of the Polish society.

Priest Cardinal was consecrated a bishop by John Paul II and knew him personally. What role, according to Eminency, can the person of the Polish Pope play for the youngest generation of the 18-or20-year-olds, who know John Paul II only from films and historical studies?

I think that in the context of the person of John Paul II we must make young people familiar with his works, for example, encyclicals: ‘Evangelium vitae’, that is, ‘Gospel of life’ – about the value and inviolability of human life; ‘Veritatis splendor’, that is, presenting moral teaching of the Church; exhortations: ‘Familiaris consortion’ concerning family, ‘Pastores dabo vobis’ – on priesthood, etc. I think that we must lead young people to this teaching of John Paul II, as a kind of a way for the contemporary times. And I will add in this respect, another essential thing: most young priests are called priests from the generation of John Paul II, they are under influence of his long pontificate. I think that these are just them who should pass over the teaching of the Polish Pope to others. In some places one can notice an opinion that John Paul II represented an epoch and we are in a new one and must go in this direction. And this is not true because John Paul II was rooted in the continuity of the universal teaching of the Church, addressing it also to our times.

What feelings did Eminency have five years ago in the Sistine Chapel when electing another successor of St. Peter with others cardinals?

For me it was an experience of great responsibility. I prayed for the light of the Holy Spirit and in order to get an answer who the Holy Spirit would like to become a pastor of the universal Church. Moreover, considering the difficult situation, where the Church and the world are, it seemed to me very important that cardinals should elect the best teacher and pastor.

What are the greatest challenges the contemporary Church is facing up at present?

I think that the greatest challenge is an attack on marriage and family. The Church is practically the only institution which is persistent in defending the truth about marriage and family for ages. And what is basic is the fact that in no way did the Church weaken its teaching, nor a testimony at our times.

On 30 June Priest Cardinal was celebrating his 70th birth anniversary, and a day before also the 43rd anniversary of priestly life. What can we wish to Eminency on this occasion?

Being faithful till the end. I do not know how much time God will give me. He is very generous to me in this respect. I would like you to pray for me so that I could remain a faithful and brave pastor of believers.

At the end I would like to ask: how many times has Priest Cardinal had an occasion to visit our country?

It has been my fourth visit to Poland. I arrived here in 2003 for the first time. At that time I was presiding over a pilgrimage from La Crosse diocese (a Roman-Catholic diocese which comprised the western part of Wisconsin state). We visited various holy places in Poland. After some time I arrived here again in order to present a translation of a book which I wrote about the Holy Eucharist – ‘God’s Love became the Body’, it was in 2016. For the third time I arrived here last year – I visited Licheń, later I was in Kalisz on the Day of Holiness of Priestly Life. This years I have taken part in, among the others, a ceremony of Corpus Christi in Włocławek.

Nevertheless, it seems that Priest Cardinal has been in our West-Pomeranian region for the first time….

Yes, that is true. I must admit that this is a very beautiful region. It is also an area of Poland which is different in historical respect as before the war there were Germans and Protestantism here. Now this is a Catholic and Polish region. Certainly, I am not here as long as to have some deeper reflections, but I like my visit to this place; especially the seminary, which makes an impression with its architectural structure. It is also the expression of Catholicism of God’s people on Pomerania. I also admire archbishop Andrzej Dzięga. I know him personally, I have also known his teaching for many years.

Thank you for the interview.

Thank you and I bless everybody with all my heart.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

„Niedziela” 30/2018

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: