Is the Vatican declaring war on U.S. secularism?

In a CNS interview in which he reflected upon his first year on the job as the Prefect oft he Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke said he could envision a time when the Catholic Church in the United States “even by announcing her own teaching” will be accused of “engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Burke declared “it is a war” and “critical at this time that Christians stand up for the natural moral law.”  If they do not, Burke warned, “secularization will in fact predominate and it will destroy us.”


Perhaps a bit of scarlet hyperbole…after all, Christ did promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). But, the point the Cardinal is making is absolutely correct. Secularization is well on its way to cementing its place as one of, if not the most dominant belief systems in the United States.

Could Cardinal Burke envision Catholics being arrested for their faith?

Cardinal Burke was emphatic: “I can see it happening, yes.”

This observation may not be the stuff of scarlet hyperbole. After all, when Catholic moral teaching is brought into the public square, the critique of the prevailing Zeitgeist oftentimes is belittled as antiquated, if not ignorant. Not quite the stuff of arrest, imprisonment, and torture.  But, certainly the stuff of marginalization that in retrospect was a precursor to persecution.

Cardinal Burke also minced no words when it came to self-professed Catholic politicians who oppose the Church on key moral issues, among them U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is seeking to regulate most of the country’s employers, including Catholic institutions, to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion in employee health plans. The Cardinal said:

To the degree to which (Sebelius) proclaims herself to be a practicing Catholic, she is very wrong….[It is] simply incomprehensible [for Catholics to] support the kind of measures that she is supporting.

While Cardinal Burke appears to be speaking for himself, that actually may not be the case.



Later in the week, Pope Benedict XVI issued similar warnings to the bishops from the U.S. northeast during their 10-day, ad limina visit.  According to a CNS article, Benedict XVI said:

…the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated.  The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers.

Sounding much like Cardinal Burke, Pope Benedict urged the bishops to speak out in defense of Catholic moral teaching:

Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the
troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its
roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts.

The present moment can thus be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

It may very well be the case that the Vatican is coordinating its offices to send a very clear message to the U.S. Catholic Church: “The cafeteria is closed. It’s time to articulate the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church in the public square.”

This is the New Evangelization and there may be a big price that Catholics may have to pay for it, if Cardinal Burke is correct.


Let the discussion begin…



To read the CNS interview of Cardinal Burke, click on the following link:

To read the CNS article about Pope Benedict’s remarks during the ad limina visit, click on the following link:

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The Motley Monk

The Motley Monk is Fr. Richard Jacobs, O.S.A., a Professor of Public Administration at Villanova University. His academic specialities include: organizational theory; leadership ethics; Catholic educational leadership; and, U.S. Catholic educational history. Check out Fr. Jacobs' daily blog at http://www.richard-jacobs-blog.com/omnibus.html.


  1. A while back the Archdiocese of Mexico City accused the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution of intolerance and hatred toward the Church and warring against society.

    Thankfully, the USCCB launched a massive postcard campaign to encourage Congress to enact immigration reform to welcome people fleeing the Archdiocese of Mexico City.

  2. FWIW, I took Cardinal Burke’s “us” to mean the United States, not the Church, in which case it may not be hyperbole.

  3. Matthew 16:18 does assure us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.
    However, it does not make any promises about the Church in any particular nation.
    Consider that northern Africa, England and Sweden were all once overwhelmingly
    Catholic societies. We are just as safe here as they were there.

    I believe there are groups in our society at war with the Church because She is the main
    force opposing their agenda. Sadly, the Church has lost many of the weapons She needs
    for this battle. The Catholic universities should have been helping to form generations
    of leaders grounded in Catholic values. Instead, most of those institutions appear to
    have long ago been secularized in all but name. Ditto many Catholic social services.
    The religious orders that provided us with missionaries and teachers and nurses and
    catechists have too often imploded under the weight of their own decadence. Our
    bishops squandered both their own credibility and billions of dollars of the Church’s
    resources in the pedophilia scandals– it will take decades to rebuild both of those losses. Sadly, we laity abort and contracept and divorce in numbers largely indis-
    tinguishable from the rest of the population. We laity are largely ignorant of what the
    Church teaches, ignorant of our own birthright as Catholics.

    We’re sick and naked and with few allies in this society. And the wolves are circling
    closer and closer… What is to be done?

  4. “What is to be done?”

    Pray and fight. Traditionally we Catholics have been good at both. We will fight our adversaries politically and culturally until we win.

    Go to :50: “Here where Nero rules today, Christ shall rule forever!” We Catholics have a 2000 year history of outlasting and defeating our adversaries. The forces we oppose in our society are as nothing compared to some of the adversaries the Church has faced in the past.

  5. “The Catholic universities should have been helping to form generations
    of leaders grounded in Catholic values. Instead, most of those institutions appear to
    have long ago been secularized in all but name.”

    There is so much relevant truth to the current situation in the Catholic Church in the United States in those two sentences. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the leading educational institutions within the Church for helping to form young Catholics into adulthood, have instead helped to lead our youth away from their faith.

    Correcting this situation, is among the most critical aspects of the New Evangelization. How to effect it, while respecting academic freedom in the United States, will be a challenge. But one can present alternative ideas in a religious educational environment, while still teaching the fundamentals of the faith and, in those efforts, effectively evangelizing to our youth.

    The Bishops must not, however, hesitate in the face of this challenge. It is their challenge. As John Paul II so wisely counseled, be not afraid.

  6. Cardinal Burke correctly points out the possibilty of the secular Govt. accusing us (the Church) of illegal sexual morality, when we profess the Catholic teachings on sexual morality. The remedy lie in the catholic population which should suffer if necessary and fight out the issue. Lay intellectuals in the community should wake up and roll their sleeves and get into the field.

  7. We need to pray unceasingly. We do need toget involved in the public square In many instances we have shed our Catholic identity in the name of ecuminism. We need to set examples in the public square to show that we are proud of our faith. we need to live our faith in our parishes and in the public square. Most important of all we must spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. God Bless You All

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