Question for Cardinal Burke

OK, I will shortly update re the baby and a general post-natal update, but firstly huge thanks to Anna Arco and the team from the Catholic Herald for their wonderful live blog and streaming from the vigil Mass and today’s beatification of John Paul II in Rome. Due to a hospital appointment I couldn’t watch most of the service, we’re going to catch it later on EWTN, however it was great to be able to catch up with what was happening via the wonders of the smartphone.

One thing that has perturbed me and perhaps many others was the presence of Robert Mugabe at the ceremony. It’s a bit of a tricky one this. According to the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi, no personal invitation was issued to Mr Mugabe, representatives from all heads of states were invited as is the normal custom. America chose to send an ambassador, however there was nothing to stop Barak Obama from attending if he wished.

Whilst I am not going to defend the presence of Mr Mugabe at the ceremony, his presence there was rather sickening and does not send out the right message, I understand that this perhaps was not as clear cut as it might seem. The Vatican, as an independent state maintains diplomatic relations with all countries and prefers to keep lines of communication open. The problem, as far as I can see it, with refusing to invite anyone from Zimbabwe is that this could result in a backlash from Mugabe’s men, resulting in attacks and persecution of the Catholic community. Furthermore it could also have meant that the Catholic Church were hampered in their various aid activities inside the country.

However it is more than a little puzzling that a welcome is extended to a man, who whilst speaking to a group of Christian evangelicals on Thursday, denounced the Catholic bishops as “puppets and liars”. Addressing members of the Zion Christian Church in Mbungo, he said:  “I am confused by my own Catholic bishops, they must learn from you (ZCC leaders). Often Catholic bishops expose that they are not their own men; they are mere puppets of Western Countries. I grew up in a Catholic Church but now I am totally frustrated by how these so called men of God who lie. All Catholic bishops are liars, they demonise my party every day.” 

At least the Bishops cannot be accused of implicitly supporting Mugabe or his murderous regime if they provoke such outbursts. Less puzzling is Mugabe’s hypocrisy in attending the ceremony and using it as an excuse to travel out of the country. Whilst I totally understand the Vatican’s dilemma, Mr Mugabe’s presence casts an unnecessary shadow over today’s wonderful events and has to go down as yet another PR fail from the Vatican’s communications department who once again are demonstrating that they are reactive rather than proactive. Surely the situation could have been anticipated and prevented in advance? Unsurprisingly the world’s press has picked up on this story and mistakenly spun Mugabe’s presence as being due to a personal invitation. I trust that PR issues such as these will be tactfully and respectfully raised in tomorrow’s Vatican blognic.

What confuses me, is why given the nature of the crimes that Robert Mugabe has been implicated in, no-one has clarifed his excommunication? Though no canon lawyer, surely Mugabe’s statement re the Bishops  on Thursday would qualify him for automatic excommunication constituting an offence under cannon 1364, which stipulates “An apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic” as being a cause for automatic excommunication.

I’d be interested to see whether or not any  cannon lawyers might agree with me on this? Mugabe has blood on his hands;  though we can judge whether or not he appears to show any sign of remorse or repentance for the wicked acts carried out under his regime, he certainly seems to have incited and supported acts of unimaginable cruelty and violence, we cannot sit in judgement upon his soul or know whether or not, as the good Catholic he professes to be, he has taken these to confession. As a Catholic, catechised by the Jesuit order, we can however guess that unless his instruction was particularly poor, he knows full well that he violates the precepts of the Catechism and that his actions are lacking in Christian charity.

If the Vatican were to clarify his excommunication, this would not disbar him from attending the ceremony, but it would however send a strong message that unless and until he repents, he is unable to receive any of the sacraments of the Church and thus they cannot be accused of according him a welcome, other than respecting the office which he represents. If Mugabe were publicly refused communion it would send a very strong message and one can but hope that it might also act as the medicinal remedy for which excommunication is intended. Not merely to punish, but that the pain of being separated from Christ in the Eucharist may bring the lost sheep back into the fold.

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