Recently, I had the great honor to have an audience with His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke to discuss the state of Catholic men in the United States.
Here is the full transcript:
Matthew James Christoff of the New Emangelization Project: Your Eminence, we are delighted and blessed to be here with you. Today, we are here to talk about the state of Catholic men in the United States and how we might draw more men into the New Evangelization. Maybe to start, how would Your Eminence describe the state of men in the Catholic Church today?
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke: I think there has been a great confusion with regard to the specific vocation of men in marriage and of men in general in the Church during the past 50 years or so. It’s due to a number of factors, but the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized.
Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.
The goodness and importance of men became very obscured, and for all practical purposes, were not emphasized at all. This is despite the fact that it was a long tradition in the Church, especially through the devotion of St. Joseph, to stress the manly character of the man who sacrifices his life for the sake of the home, who prepares with chivalry to defend his wife and his children and who works to provide the livelihood for the family. So much of this tradition of heralding the heroic nature of manhood has been lost in the Church today.
All of those virtuous characteristics of the male sex are very important for a child to observe as they grow up and mature. The healthy relationship with the father helps the child to prepare to move from the intimate love of the mother, building a discipline so that the child can avoid excessive self‑love. This ensures that the child is able to identify himself or herself properly as a person in relationship with others; this is critical for both boys and girls.
A child’s relationship with their father is key to a child’s self‑identification, which takes places when we are growing up. We need that very close and affirming relationship with the mother, but at the same time, it is the relationship with the father, which is of its nature more distant but not less loving, which disciplines our lives. It teaches a child to lead a selfless life, ready to embrace whatever sacrifices are necessary to be true to God and to one another.
I recall in the mid-1970’s, young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women. These divisions between women and men have gotten worse since then.
Everyone understands that women have and can be abused by men. Men who abuse women are not true men, but false men who have violated their own manly character by being abusive to women.
The crisis between man and woman has been made much worse by a complete collapse of catechesis in the Church. Young men grew up without proper instruction with regard to their faith and to the knowledge of their vocation. Young men were not being taught that they are made in the image of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These young men were not taught to know all those virtues that are necessary in order to be a man and to fulfill the particular gifts of being male.
Making things worse, there was a very fluffy, superficial kind of catechetical approach to the question of human sexuality and the nature of the marital relationship.
At the same time, in society, there came an explosion of pornography, which is particularly corrosive for men because it terribly distorts the whole reality of human sexuality. It leads men and women to view their human sexuality apart from a relationship between a man and woman in marriage.
In truth, the gift of sexual attraction is directed toward marriage, and any kind of sexual union belongs properly only within marriage. But the whole world of pornography corrupts young people into believing that their sexual capacity is for their own entertainment and pleasure, and becomes a consuming lust, which is one of the seven capital sins.
The gift of human sexuality is turned into a means of self‑gratification often at the expense of another person, whether in heterosexual relations or in homosexual relations. A man who has not been formed with a proper identity as a man and as a father figure will ultimately become very unhappy. These poorly formed men become addicted to pornography, sexual promiscuity, alcohol, drugs, and the whole gamut of addictions. Also, in this whole mix…am I talking too much?
Matthew: No, no. [laughs]
Cardinal Burke: Worsening this sad confusion of men in the culture, there has also been a terrible loss of home life. The culture has become very materialistic and consumer-focused, the pursuit of which has led father, and often the mother, to work long hours. The consumer mentality has also led to the idea that children’s lives had to be filled with activity: school, sports and music and all kinds of activities every night of the week.
All those things are good in themselves, but there has been a loss of balance. The home life in which children spend adequate time with parents has been lost for many families. Families have stopped enjoying meals together. I remember how my father gave us lessons and taught us manners at the dinner table. To spend time talking with my parents was very important to my growing up. When I was a young priest, I was saddened that parents and children told me that fathers and children rarely talked and, when they did, it was only briefly.
Families should have at least one meal together each week where the whole family is together. A boy or young man is unlikely to build proper manly identity and the manly virtues unless he lives with a father and mother, where he can witness that unique and complementary interaction between the male and the female in a home life in which human life can be welcomed, nurtured and developed.
All these various forces have come together and grievously wounded men.
Sadly, the Church has not effectively reacted to these destructive cultural forces; instead the Church has become too influenced by radical feminism and has largely ignored the serious needs of men.
My generation has taken for granted the many blessings we were blessed with in our solid family lives and with the Church’s solid formation of us. My generation let all of this nonsense of sexual confusion, radical feminism and the breakdown of the family go on, not realizing that we were robbing the next generations of the most treasured gifts that we had been blessed to receive.
We have gravely wounded the current generations. As a bishop, young people complained bitterly to me, “Why we were not taught these things. Why we were not more clearly taught about the Mass, Confession and traditional devotions?” These things matter for they form a spiritual life and a man’s character.
Going to Confession and to Sunday Mass, praying the Rosary together as a family in the evening, eating meals together, all these things give practical direction in the Christian life. Learning that it is not manly to be vulgar or blasphemous and that a man is welcoming and courteous to others; these might seem like little things but they form a man’s character. Much of this has been lost.
Matthew: Your Eminence, what has been the impact of this Catholic “man-crisis” on the Church?
Cardinal Burke: The Church becomes very feminized. Women are wonderful, of course. They respond very naturally to the invitation to be active in the Church. Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.
Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.
As an example, it became politically incorrect to talk about the Knights of the Altar, an idea that is highly appealing to young men. The Knights of the Altar emphasize the idea that young men offer their chivalrous service at the altar to defend Christ in the sacred realities of the Church. This idea is not welcome in many places today.
Aspects of the Church’s life that emphasized the man‑like character of devotion and sacrifice have been deemphasized. Devotions that required time and effort were simply abandoned. Everything became so easy and when things are easy, men don’t think it is worth the effort.
There has been, and continues to be, serious liturgical abuses that turn men off.
In many places the Mass became very priest‑centered, it was like the “priest show”. This type of abuse leads to a loss of the sense of the sacred, taking the essential mystery out of the Mass. The reality of Christ Himself coming down on the altar to make present His sacrifice on Cavalry gets lost. Men are drawn to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice but tune out when the Mass becomes a “priest show” or trite.
The rampant liturgical experimentation after Vatican II, much of which was not sanctioned by Vatican II, stripped the Rite of the Mass of much of its careful articulation of the Sacred Mysteries that had been developed over centuries. The Mass seemed to become something very familiar, performed by men; the profound supernatural sense of the Sacred Mystery became obscured.
The loss of the sacred led to a loss of participation of women and men. But I think that men were really turned off by the loss of the sacred. It seems clear that many men are not being drawn into a deeper liturgical spirituality; today, many men are not being drawn to service at the altar.
Young men and men respond to rigor and precision and excellence. When I was trained to be a server, the training lasted for several weeks and you had to memorize the prayers at the foot of the altar. It was a rigorous and a carefully executed service. All of a sudden, in the wake of Vatican II, the celebration of the liturgy became very sloppy in many places. It became less attractive to young men, for it was slipshod.
The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church.
I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.
Matthew: There is a great need for a major New Evangelization of men in the Church, to use our term, a New Emangelization. Small steps and incremental efforts are not likely to reverse the exodus of men from the Church. What kind of things have to happen within the Church to draw millions of lukewarm men back into a fervent Catholic faith life?
Cardinal Burke: First of all, the Church must make a concentrated effort to evangelize men by delivering a strong and consistent message about what it means to be a faithful Catholic man. Men need to be addressed very directly about the demanding and noble challenge of serving Jesus Christ the Eternal King and His Catholic Church. Men are hungry and thirsty for meaning beyond the everyday world.
The culture in which we live is bankrupt and young men, especially, recognize the brokenness of the culture. Young men and young women want to hear words that are directed specifically to them to use their virtues and gifts for the good of everyone.
We can see that men are hungry from the great success of Catholic men’s conferences that are beginning to expand in the United States. This is evidence that men will respond when the Church reaches out to them in a challenging way. Men are facing great temptations, particularly, as I mentioned due to pornography and confusion about sexuality and desperately need to be taught how to battle these temptations in Christ. Men need to enter into prayer and with the help of God’s Grace, men can overcome these grievous temptations and become men of strong moral character. Catholic men.
We can also see that our seminaries are beginning to attract many strong young men who desire to serve God as priests. The new crop of young men are manly and confident about their identity. This is a welcome development, for there was a period of time when men who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity had entered the priesthood; sadly some of these disordered men sexually abused minors; a terrible tragedy for which the Church mourns.
We have to be very clear with men about purity, chastity, modesty and even the way men dress and present themselves. Men’s behaviors and dress matter, for it affects how they relate to the world and it affects the culture. Men need to dress and act like men in a way that is respectful to themselves, to women and to children.
Matthew: One of the frequent themes in the New Emangelization Project research is that large numbers of men do not understand the Mass. Men think that the Mass is feminized and they don’t really understand the powerful manliness of the Mass. This is particularly true of a majority of Catholic men who are Casual Catholic Men, men who are casual about their faith. This is critical because if a man doesn’t understand the Mass he can’t tap into the supernatural graces that occur in the Mass. A man who doesn’t understand the Mass himself certainly can’t teach his children about the Mass.
Cardinal Burke: Yes. One way to re-engage men is to restore the dignity of the liturgy. Men will respond when they see a priest reverently acting in the name of Christ. Men will not respond when the priest is putting on a show about himself. Offering the Mass in a reverent way has always attracted men throughout the history of the Church. It does today.
We need to catechize men about the profound realities of the Mass. As I mentioned, catechesis has been poor, especially the catechesis of men. Catechizing men and celebrating the Mass in a reverent way will make a big difference. It is also clear that many men will respond to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the rite celebrated before the Vatican II Council reforms.
I have been very struck by the number of young men who were attracted to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. This is not because the Extraordinary Form is more valid than the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form. Men are attracted because the Extraordinary Form is very highly articulated; it demands a man’s attention to what’s happening. Even the use of a hand missal where there’s a verbal accompaniment to the action of the Mass can help a man more fully enter into the Mass.
The Ordinary Form, if it’s celebrated very reverently with good music, can have the same strong positive effect on men. Men don’t go in for this kind of corny approach to the Mass when it becomes some kind of feel-good session, or where there is irreverence. Men are there to receive Jesus Christ. They need to see Him, to see His presence reflected in the reverent manner of the priest.
Matthew: The Sacrament of Reconciliation has also been abandoned by the vast majority of Catholic men. Only 1 in 50 men go to Confession on a monthly basis. Some 80 percent of men don’t get to Confession even once a year. Combined with the epidemic of pornography, especially among young men, large numbers of Catholic men are in mortal sin. How can the Church reintroduce and emphasize the need for men to go to Confession?
Cardinal Burke: Until men understand that there is Sin, and what Sin is, and that Sin offends God gravely, they will not go to Confession. Men need to have an encounter with God, with our Lord in the Sacrament of Penance to confess their Sins, express their sorrow, and receive His forgiveness.
Men are not going to Confession today because there has been a denial of Sin. There was a period after Vatican II where many were promoting the idea that there weren’t any serious sins.
Of course, this is lethal for men, especially young men. Young men may begin to engage in the sexual sin of masturbation. Men have told me that when they were teenagers, they confessed the sin of masturbation in the confessional and priests would say, “Oh, that’s nothing you should be confessing. Everybody does that.” That’s wrong.
These are sinful acts. They need to be confessed along with other types of sins, whether the sins are foul language, lying, stealing, or whatever it might be. The denial of sin was a breakdown in the sense of what is demanded of men as men of Christ.
Confronting sin is central to being able to love one another. How does a man love? He loves by obeying the Ten Commandments. After Vatican II, that great call to love by confronting sin was lost, leading to the most horrible abuses of individuals, abusing themselves or others, the break down of family life, a precipitous drop in Mass attendance and the abandonment of the Sacrament of Penance. We must restore the sense of sin to men, for men to recognize their sins and express deep sorrow for their sins.
When this happens, Confession becomes a mysteriously beautiful experience for a man. For a man can know with certainty that he has personally expressed his sorrow for his sins to God, he can hear the freeing words of God through His minister and that his sins are forgiven and absolved.
Matthew: What concrete advice would you give to a priest to help him evangelize men and dramatically increase the involvement of men in a parish?
Cardinal Burke: First of all, be manly yourself. In other words, cultivate your own manly qualities, because the priest is first and foremost the spiritual father; he is a man. You need to have manly qualities of selflessness, chivalry and discipline to avoid situations improper for a priest. A priest must have the manly confidence and credibility to be a spiritual father to his flock, giving clear firm guidance with kindness and charity.
Secondly, I’d advise priests to give special attention to men and to look for ways to draw men into the life of the Church. It is easier to engage women because our sisters tend to be very generous and talented. But the Church and each priest needs to make a determined effort to draw good Catholic men into whatever activities there are in the Church. It is essential to the New Evangelization.
Matthew: Any parting thoughts Your Eminence?
Cardinal Burke: I very much commend your work in the New Emangelization. It’s key to the New Evangelization.
When the French government unilaterally imposed the so‑called same‑sex marriage, which of course is not marriage at all, it brought out two million people who rallied behind the simple image of fathers and mothers holding the hands of their children. Fathers are essential to the family.
Men need to reflect on their own experience, even if it was negative. If a father was missing in their lives, men need to realize what they needed in a father and a mother. Fathers and mothers are wonderful gifts that are given to us by God.
So too is the beautiful gift of our human sexuality as God intended it, not as, sadly, the many sick abuses of the gift of sexuality that are occurring in the world today. The dark confusion of gender theory deceives people into thinking that they can create their own sexual identities based on urges and emotions. We are so blessed God gave us this gift of being a man or being a woman. It’s a matter of us to respond to God’s will to develop our gifts of being a man or woman.
Matthew, I want to commend you. I believe what you are doing is key to the future strengthening of the life of the Church, and obviously to our whole society.
Matthew: Praise God. Your Eminence, thank you so much for spending time with us.
Cardinal Burke: I am happy to be a part of it, a little part. [laughs]