The following is a shortened version of Cardinal Raymond Burke's address at the fifth World Prayer Congress for Life held in Rome under the auspices of Human Life International on 9 October 2010. Cardinal Burke, formerly Archbishop of St Louis, is Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in the Vatican.
It is clear that we are presently experiencing a period of intense and critical struggle in the advancement of the culture of life in the world. Many governments and international organisations openly and aggressively follow a secularist, anti-life and anti-family agenda.
Now more than ever, the world needs the consistent witness to the truth, expressed in the Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition, the basis for a culture which respects fully the gift of human life and its origin in procreation, that is, in the cooperation of man and woman with God through the conjugal union and through education in the home which they have formed by marriage.
A first fundamental presupposition of my presentation is the truth that the struggle against total secularisation, which is, by definition, opposed to human life and to the family, is full of hope. It is by no means futile, that is, ultimately destined to failure. The fundamental presupposition is the victory of life, which Our Lord Jesus Christ, has already won.
The voice of men and women of good will, who recognise and obey the law of God written upon their hearts, remains strong in our world.
Living in a totally secularised culture, we must open our eyes to see that many recognise the human bankruptcy of our culture and are looking with hope to the Church for the inspiration and strength to claim anew the God-fearing and Christian foundations of every human society.
We, therefore, must never give up in the struggle to advance a culture founded on the choice of life, which God has written upon our hearts, and the victory of life, which Christ has won in our human nature.
A second fundamental presupposition of my presentation is the essential relationship of the respect for human life and the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. The attack on the innocent and defenceless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act.
The manipulation of the conjugal act, as the Servant of God Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence to marriage and family life. Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but, rather, as a tool for personal gratification.
Essential to the advancement of the culture of life is the proclamation of the truth about the conjugal union, in its fullness, and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.
In a world which prizes, above all else, self-determination and individualism, the Christian is easily tempted to view the Magisterium in relationship to his individualism and self-pursuit. In other words, he is tempted to relativise the authority of the Magisterium. The phenomenon today is popularly known as "cafeteria Catholicism."
The service of the bishop, as true shepherd of the flock, is essential, indeed irreplaceable. In a culture beset by what our Holy Father, in his homily on the morning of the beginning of the conclave in which he was elected Successor of Saint Peter, called the "dictatorship of relativism," the bishop, as chief teacher of the faith and morals in the diocese, carries an especially heavy and constant burden. For he must ensure the sound teaching which safeguards and promotes the good of all the faithful, especially those who cannot take care of or defend themselves.
Catechesis is a most fundamental responsibility which the bishop exercises on behalf of the good of the faithful entrusted to his care, ultimately, of their eternal salvation. Pope John Paul II reminded bishops that they fulfill their responsibility by the first proclamation of the faith, or kerygma, "which is always needed for bringing about the obedience of faith, but is all the more urgent today, in times marked by indifference and religious ignorance on the part of many Christians" ( Pastores Gregis, n. 29).
United to the kerygma is the catechesis of those who have embraced the faith and strive to be obedient to it. Pope John Paul II declared: "It is therefore the duty of every bishop to give real priority in his particular Church to active and effective catechesis. He must demonstrate his personal concern through direct interventions aimed at promoting and preserving an authentic passion for catechesis" ( Pastores Gregis, n. 29).
Obedience to the Magisterium is a virtue and is attained through the practice of such obedience. When the shepherds of the flock are obedient to the Magisterium, entrusted to their exercise, then the members of the flock grow in obedience and proceed, with Christ, along the way of salvation. If the shepherd is not obedient, the flock easily gives way to confusion and error.
Obedience to the Magisterium is difficult for man in every age. The practice of the "obedience of faith" is difficult to master. The difficulty comes both from within us and from outside of us. We suffer the effects of the sin of our First Parents, which fundamentally was a sin of prideful disobedience, of rebellion against God's will.
The world around us, the culture in which we live, to the degree that it has succumbed to Satan's deceptions, is a source of strong temptation for us. Our culture, in fact, has been described as "godless" both by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Our culture teaches us to act as if God did not exist. At the same time, it teaches a radical individualism and self-interest which lead us away from the love of God and from the love of one another.
Often the lack of obedience to the Magisterium is not total but selective. Our culture teaches us to believe what is convenient and to reject what is difficult for us or challenges us. Thus, we can easily fall into "cafeteria Catholicism," a practice of the faith which picks and chooses what part of the deposit of faith to believe and practise.
A most tragic example of the lack of obedience of faith, also on the part of certain bishops, was the response of many to the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI, published on 25 July 1968. The confusion which resulted has led many Catholics into habits of sin in what pertains to the procreation and education of human life.
The lack of integrity in obeying the Magisterium is also seen in the hypocrisy of Catholics who claim to be practising their faith but who refuse to apply the truth of the faith in their exercise of politics, medicine, business and the other human endeavours. These Catholics claim to hold "personally" to the truth of the faith, for example, regarding the inviolability of innocent and defenceless human life, while, in the political arena or in the practice of medicine, they cooperate in the attack on our unborn brothers and sisters, or on those who have grown weak under the burden of years, of illness, or of special needs.
We find self-professed Catholics, for example, who sustain and support the right of a woman to procure the death of the infant in her womb, or the right of two persons of the same sex to the recognition which the state gives to a man and a woman who have entered into marriage. It is not possible to be a practising Catholic and to conduct oneself publicly in this manner.
While true religion teaches the natural moral law, the observance of the moral law is not a confessional practice. It is rather a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart. Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law, enabling men of faith to recognise more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognise. For that reason, governments, in the past, have acknowledged the importance of religious faith for the life of the nation.
In the present situation of our world, the Christian faith has a critical responsibility to articulate clearly the natural moral law and its demands. Under the constant influence of a rationalist and secularist philosophy which makes man, instead of God, the ultimate measure of what is right and good, many have become confused about the most basic truths, for example, the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, and the integrity of marriage between one man and one woman as the first and irreplaceable cell of the life of society.
If Christians fail to articulate and uphold the natural moral law, then they fail in the fundamental duty of patriotism, of loving their country by serving the common good.
Recognising the responsibility of Christians and of all men of good will to enunciate and uphold the natural moral law, we also recognise the scandal which is given when Christians fail to uphold the moral law in public life.
When those who profess to be Christian at the same time favour and promote policies and laws which permit the destruction of innocent and defenceless human life, and which violate the integrity of marriage and the family, then citizens, in general, are confused and led into error about the basic tenets of the moral law.
We cannot ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law. This, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation.
The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law ( Code of Canon Law, can. 915 and 1184, § 1, 31).
When a person has publicly espoused and cooperated in gravely sinful acts, leading many into confusion and error about fundamental questions of respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, repentance for such actions must also be public. The person in question bears a heavy responsibility for the grave scandal he or she has caused. The responsibility is especially heavy for political leaders.
The repair of such scandal begins with the public acknowledgement of one's own error and the public declaration of adherence to the moral law. The soul which recognises the gravity of what has been done will, in fact, understand immediately the need to make public reparation.
One of the ironies of the present situation is that anyone who complains at being scandalised by the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of lacking charity or of causing division within the unity of the Church.
In a society whose thinking is governed by the "dictatorship of relativism" and in which political correctness and human respect are the ultimate criteria of what is to be done and what is to be avoided, the notion of leading someone into moral error makes little sense. What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society.
The obedience to the Magisterium is alone the way to participate in the victory of eternal life, and the service of the bishops is irreplaceable in leading us all to an ever purer and stronger obedience. There is no other way to salvation than hearing God's Word and putting it into practice with all our being. We know that, if we speak the truth and live the truth, Who is Christ the Lord of heaven and earth, we will foster a culture of life in our world, a culture in which the common good is safeguarded and fostered for all, without boundary or exception.