Archbishop Burke, Father Euteneuer, and Catholic Charity

And be it always remembered that the goodness of God is dynamic — it leads to action; it not only fills the soul but it makes the soul love and makes it manifest its love in deeds.
— M. Eugene Boylan, This Tremendous Lover
On January 21, Coach Rick Majerus of Saint Louis University told a pressing radio interviewer during a pro-Hillary Clinton rally, “I’m pro-choice personally.”
Predictably — no doubt as the interviewer hoped — the coach’s remarks set off a flurry of controversy, punctuated by Saint Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke’s immediate response: “It’s not possible to be a Catholic and hold those positions . . . which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church.”
Later, on February 1, during an interview with St. Louis Review, the archbishop used the incident as a springboard to discuss core Catholic teachings and public dissent. He emphasized his desire that Catholics not be scandalized or mislead by public misrepresentations of core Catholic teachings, and that, on the level of dissident persons like Majerus, the figure “first has to be dealt with pastorally.” The archbishop declined to pronounce dramatic disciplinary consequences such as the denial of communion or excommunication, but rather encouraged confused, doubtful, or insolent Catholics “to seek the help of a spiritual director to clarify these things” and to “get the help to rectify your conscience.”
If the matter rested there, within the charitable, uncompromised, and educational contours of the archbishop’s remarks, there would be little to add. Archbishop Burke was, after all, addressing the personal political remarks of a member of the athletics faculty at a college whose president only recently “testified that the university is not owned or controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, the St. Louis archdiocese or any other church and . . . does not require its students or employees to aspire to [Jesuit] ideals or to have any specific religious affiliation.”
But the matter didn’t end there. For reasons both unclear and unfortunate, Coach Majerus’s remarks became fodder for a flurry of Catholic blogging activity — flamed by a quote attributed to Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International:
Rick Majerus is more of a basket case than a basketball coach. His sicknesses all fit so neatly together: He has a modern anti-Catholic “Jesuit” education; he embraces superficial, undigested rhetoric about the issues; he is a jock pretending to be a scientist; and he exhibits a defiant disobedience to religious authority. Dante would have a field day — no pun intended — putting this guy in the pit of hell. He should be excommunicated along with all the Jesuits who “educated” him.
A wide range of Catholic bloggers seized upon Father Euteneuer’s characterization of Coach Majerus and the Jesuits, commending Father for the “Quote of the Day“; for speaking “forcefully on key moral issues, unlike many of the clergy today;” saying “it so well” in a “compact, yet powerful paragraph.” Many other bloggers — including young orthodox Catholics no doubt weary of sharing pews and airwaves with communion-going Clintonian Catholics — picked up and linked to Father Euteneuer’s blast.
Each new blog spot deepened my distress. I nurtured hope that someone would temper the words attributed to Father Euteneuer, particularly calling a baptized member of the Body of Christ “a basket case” with “sicknesses,” “a jock pretending to be a scientist,” and advocating that he be put “in the pit of hell” and “excommunicated.” But the words spread and echoed through the Internet — like an ivy overtaking and choking Archbishop Burke’s tone and message, threatening to poison our theological concept of Catholic charity.
I contacted Father Euteneuer and his organization several times, requesting a confirmation or a clarification of the quote, but I received no response. I waited, hoping that the personal attack on Coach Majerus, attributed to a priest I so admire, was a mistake taken out of context, or mistyped by busy bloggers. But Father’s words continue to circulate, unchecked and unquestioned.
Father Euteneuer’s response to Coach Majerus’s remarks contrasts notably with Archbishop Burke’s own remarks. While both clerics object to Majerus’s public expression of heretical opinion, their responses model very different attitudes for lay people, like me, who live in daily contact with confused and defiant members of the Church. The archbishop’s reaction offers a model of charity to which we should aspire. Meanwhile, Father Euteneuer’s name-calling and public condemnation seem inconsistent with the behavior to which we are called as Christians, whether we are in face-to-face conversation, on the Internet, or in prayer.
Here is the concern: What is Father’s larger cyber-message to faithful Catholics — to stressed, often disheartened, even cranky Catholics like me who must daily commune with “pro-choice” Catholics, daily begging God for patience and sustenance to have The Discussion just one more time? Is Father saying, “You don’t have to do that, Marjorie — go ahead, in the name of admonition, you can name-call, tell your neighbor she is going to hell, demand her excommunication along with the parish priest who gives her communion each Sunday”? Is Father Euteneuer modeling evangelical behavior for me and other lay Catholics? 


First, a word about charity: I’m not talking about a “let’s feel good” hand-holding Kumbaya, a prolonged Hug of Peace, or a Lenten Rice Bowl Box for hungry children you never have to look in the eye. Charity inspires such acts for the good, I’m sure. But as Boylan notes, real charity requires more, for “what we do to our fellow members is done to Him — for they are His Body.” Like it or not, the Coach Majeruses in my world are part of His Body, and I must treat them charitably, which “does not compel us to like people, but love them. And love is an act of the will wishing one well.” It is, as Archbishop Burke framed the challenge, speaking truth with love — even to (maybe mostly to) people living in grave error.
Second, practicing charity does not mean behaving like “politically correct sissies” — a term coined by Father Euteneuer — nor does it mean being dishonest about Church teachings, or failing to admonish. I doubt anyone would accuse Archbishop Burke of being a sissy, or soft-pedaling Church doctrine to spare the feelings of the rich and famous. Yet, in all of his political controversies, Archbishop Burke has focused on the celebrity’s “error,” its consequences, and its redeemable nature in his public statements. As the archbishop described his pastoral approach, “It’s not a matter of calling people on the carpet, but of calling Catholics to conscience.”
Finally, I imagine trying to incorporate Father Euteneuer’s comments on Majerus into my prayer life. Could I, with charity, pray to God during my weekly Adoration visit that He excommunicate and send to hell my “basket case,” “sick” Catholic neighbor who supports Hillary Clinton’s pro-choice platform? And if I could not utter this “prayer” for my neighbor, how could I pen it for consumption by the Catholic blogging world? Archbishop Burke’s model better comports with our call to charity. Again, Boylan: “Fraternal charity is necessary for living membership of Christ . . . . Such charity is necessary if we to pray in the name of Jesus. It is only when we are united to the rest of His members by charity that we truly can pray in His name.”
Perhaps we all are learning — Father Euteneuer, as well — that our Internet blogs and posts easily pass beyond our control and spread like a contagion. The practice of true charity starts in the heart — as the Little Flower urged, it “consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues.” If we start there, then, we can follow Archbishop Burke’s example: that it should be us, above all, who speak truth with love and who model charity toward those gravely mistaken about core Catholic teachings.

Click here to read Human Life International’s response. 




Marjorie Campbell


Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, "On the Way to the Kingdom," for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.