Cardinal Burke, anti-Muslim crusader

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Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke leads a Holy Mass in the chapel of the Vatican Governorate to mark the opening of the Judicial Year of the Tribunal of Vatican City at the Vatican on January 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke leads a Holy Mass in the chapel of the Vatican Governorate to mark the opening of the Judicial Year of the Tribunal of Vatican City at the Vatican on January 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, relegated by Pope Francis from head of the Vatican’s supreme court to patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is embracing his titular position with a vengeance.

The Knights of Malta date their papal charter to the First Crusade, and last week Burke harked back to that era in a virtual press conference to promote a new book of his.

“Our ancestors gave their lives to save Christianity because they saw that Islam was attacking sacred truth,” he said. “Capitulating to Islam would be the death of Christianity.”

Notably, he also aligned himself with the common belief of the first crusaders (to say nothing of today’s Islamophobes) that Muslims and Christians worship different gods.

“I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshiping the same God, because the God of Islam is a governor,” he said. “In other words, fundamentally Islam is, Sharia is their law, and that law, which comes from Allah, must dominate every man eventually.”

Reporting on Burke’s remarks, Crux’s John Allen allowed as how this is “not the usual Vatican rhetoric when it comes to Muslims and Islam … Usually, senior ecclesiastics, very much including Pope Francis, begin any commentary on Islam with some version of the statement that “we’re all children of the same God.”

Actually this is not just a question of the usual Vatican rhetoric. It has to do with official church teaching. As in the following declarations from the Second Vatican Council:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. (Lumen Gentium, 1964)

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth (Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.), who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. (Nostra Aetate, 1965)

Allen, the journalist formerly known as the prince of American vaticanistas, is not unaware of this, writing: “Francis is likely making a doctrinal point, which is that there’s only one God and Muslims (like Jews and others) join Christians in professing belief in that God.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, however, but the doctrinal position is not “like Jews and others.” The Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — are set apart from the others.

Returning to Burke, Allen claims that he “is really talking theology, making the equally common sense observation that Muslims have a different theology from Christians on many points.”

Actually, no and no. Burke is not talking theology. That’s what the Vatican II documents do in explaining why Muslims should be understood as worshiping the same God as Christians even though they don’t, for example, acknowledge Jesus as God. And there’s nothing commonsensical about it: this has to do with revelation.

As for Burke, he’s talking religious politics. His point about the God of Islam being a governor via shariah is propaganda. It could just as well refer to the Catholic understanding of natural law, or the traditional Jewish understand of Halacha. The word “theocracy” was invented to describe how the Jews of ancient times governed themselves according to God’s law.

Catholic conservatives loved the ill-conceived criticism of Islam Pope Benedict delivered at Regensburg in 2006 and they’re now holding up Cardinal Burke as the bearer of that torch. That goes for the Knights of Columbus, of which Crux, first created by the Boston Globe, is now a wholly owned subsidiary.

Just don’t be fooled into thinking that Burke’s pronouncements are doctrinally innocuous.