Catholic cardinal selections highlight Rome ceremony

The Rev. Thomas D. Kirk fellowships with members of St. Mary's Catholic Church during a Wednesday night church meal. Kirk, who serves as pastor of St. Mary's of Jackson, said he welcomed the selection of American cardinals. | Photo by Abigail Harris

By Priya Narapareddy

Pope Benedict XVI selected two American archbishops to become cardinals in the Vatican.

Archbishops Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Raymond Burke of St. Louis are part of a group of 24 new cardinals who also came from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. They received a red cardinal’s hat at the Nov. 20 ceremony in Rome.

In the Catholic faith, an archbishop is a bishop of the highest rank. He can perform all the tasks of a priest, as well as govern local regions or parishes, or be elected pope. A cardinal is a high-church official who has been elected into the College of Cardinals in Rome by the pope.

Pope Benedict refers to the newly elected cardinals as his “princes,” mainly because they will elect the new pope who will succeed Benedict.

Archbishops Burke and Wuerl’s political views adhere to the church’s conservative teachings, but they have separate views on who should receive Holy Communion.

Burke stated in 2004 that he would withhold Holy Communion from some Catholic politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He said that Kerry’s vote for legal abortion contradicted the morals of the church.

On the contrary, Wuerl told “Politics Daily” that the church’s traditional approach would be to not refuse Holy Communion because Catholic politicians are expected to act appropriately toward their faith and apply it in their daily lives.

Monsignor Kirk, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson, said he believes the election of Burke as a cardinal will result in a tremendous American influence in the Vatican.

“Cardinal Burke is the highest canon lawyer in Rome, called the ‘Apostolic Signatura’ in Latin,” Kirk said. “He is a key player in all issues that involve the law of the church.”

Kirk said he was introduced to Wuerl when Wuerl served as a secretary to Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh, Penn.

“I met him in the 1970s when he was a relatively young priest. His teachings will have a great impact on Washington, D.C., but definitely will not have the effect of Burke’s,” he said.

He also said he agrees with Burke’s practices.

“The politicians who have chosen to support gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research have cut themselves off from the Catholic Church,” Kirk said.

Catholic teachers at St. Mary’s Rite of Initiation for Adults class had a different view toward Holy Communion.

“Politics should not be crossed with religion,” said Patsy Turner, sponsor and teacher at RCIA. “Our bishop personally said communion is based on our heart and conscience; a priest should not be able to deny it.”

RCIA sponsor and Sunday-school teacher Dale Childress, also siding with Wuerl, said the sacrament of Holy Communion is based on God-given free will.

“Every sacrament starts with form and matter, bread and wine. Christ is always present no matter who administers these sacraments of grace,” Childress said.  “The Church teaches us wholeheartedly that it is up to the sinner and God.”

Turner also believes the election of the two American archbishops demonstrates the church’s universal appeal.

“One of the greatest things that happened over the past century is that Pope Pius X began choosing cardinals from all over the world,” Turner said.  “Catholic means ‘universal,’ and our church has truly become that.”

Kathleen Hicks, director of RCIA, said that the possibility of having an American pope has increased.

“We will eventually have an American pope, but I don’t think the time is now,” Hicks said. “It’s whenever the Holy Spirit decides the time is right.”

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