Letters | The Expected Inquisition & a Response from Eric Brende



In spite of the headline for Eric Brende’s article (“No One Expects the Inquisition: My Adventures with Cardinal Burke & the ICKSP,” June 2), there was no inquisition. A man who mocked the practices of his parish was asked to leave.

As for the dubia that Cardinal Burke and three other cardinals addressed to Pope Francis, there is a notable contradiction between the pope’s expressed desire to let bishops decide practices on the local level and his refusal to reply to sincere questions from cardinals (who are also bishops). It boggles my mind that important passages from the Bible about the harm that comes to anyone who receives Communion unworthily are ignored, and that they were left out of the new expanded lectionary. Instead of receiving a charitable response that assumes their sincere desire for clarification, the cardinals who wrote the dubia are being demonized, painted as enemies of the pope, which they are not. It is said that the pope does not want to answer because he does not want to get pinned down to a yes or no. But he clearly is allowing people to draw their own conclusions while not stating what the controverted passages in Amoris laetitia actually mean. It’s part of his style. He could get rid of the confusion by speaking plainly, but he won’t.

Brende has painted Burke’s prudential decision not to interfere in the decision of the rector of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Prince (ICKSP) in St. Louis in the worst possible light. Burke had reasons in canon law for not intervening. He was right: Brende was not a good fit for the community, and it is unfortunate that he was treated that way, but he should forgive and move on. And as the author wrote, every community has its squabbles.

I have attended Latin “extraordinary form” Masses in oratories staffed by the Institute of Christ the King priests since 2008, I have been close to a few of the priests, and I have never once heard or seen any negative mention of Vatican II. They are not part of any “shadow church.” They are simply fully Catholic, and they offer the traditional Mass, under pontifical approval, to people who choose to worship in the traditional way. They are loyal to the pope and to their bishops, and they don’t come from a perspective of confrontation. They rely on attraction rather than detraction. They are good, kind, extremely generous with their time, with a sincere desire to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith.

Finally, the dressing up of the cardinal that the author sniggered at is a significant ritual performed during a solemn pontifical Mass. There is a lot symbolism in each gesture. But the thing that the author does not seem to know is that the servers are honoring the bishop not as a man but in his role in persona Christi. In fact, in ceremonies like this, it is the priesthood—not the bishop himself—that is emphasized.

Roseanne Sullivan
San Jose, Calif.


Eric Brende’s article seems like the account of one side in a parish quarrel. Have those who disagreed with him over the school co-op at St. Francis de Sales been asked for their side? I also have some factual questions.

Where has the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest been “granted space in a building that used to serve as the cathedral of an archdiocese”? Not St. Louis, where St. Francis de Sales was a parish church, and was only nicknamed “the cathedral of the south side.” Also, Brende might have mentioned that then-Archbishop Burke invited ICKSP “to take over the second-largest church sanctuary in the diocese” only when the archdiocese faced the options of restoring or razing a dilapidated structure with a miniscule congregation, with either course of action costing millions. Burke and the ICKSP saved an architectural treasure, not to mention funds the archdiocese could devote to other purposes.

When has Cardinal Burke ever worn an ermine cape? Even in the many unflattering pictures published by magazines that disagree with him, I have never seen him wearing ermine.

Was it in Cardinal Burke’s power to intervene in the dispute to which Eric Brende was a party? Is the Cardinal the religious superior of the ICKSP?

I myself don’t feel entirely at home at St. Francis de Sales, which I have visited on several occasions. It seems, however, that Commonweal is using a flap at a Catholic school to discredit a prelate it opposes on other grounds. Wouldn’t it be better to simply deal with the issue of the dubia directly?

Brian Abel Ragen
Emeritus Professor of English
Language & Literature
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville


The letters from Roseanne Sullivan and Brian Abel Ragen are perfectly consistent with the official attitude purveyed both by ICKSP and, to a degree, by Cardinal Burke, regarding the episode under discussion: It never really happened. Or if it did, it was really something other than what it was. And in any event, it ought to be brushed aside. After all, if the clergy can do no wrong, then when something does go wrong it must be overlooked. It’s also nice if someone else can take the fall. It seems strange that Burke’s defenders appeal to a sense of juridical propriety when suggesting that he couldn’t correct the matter, but are silent about the lapse in propriety on the part of Burke himself that led to the problem in the first place. If Burke could make an informal (and un-juridical) slip-up behind the scenes, why couldn’t he make an informal correction? And how much larger of spirit would our clergy appear if, instead of treating their goofs as top-secret intel, they shared them publicly from time to time, thus transforming transgression into a teaching moment? To err is human; to share one’s error for public edification, I think, divine. To pretend to be error-free, on the other hand, is to turn oneself into a graven idol.

As I mentioned in the article, my wife and I were not even able to obtain from the church office the record of our “trial.” A pity since the court stenographer had put so much work into it. The list of accusations against us was long and very exactingly worded. Incidentally, none of them, as I recall, had to do with “mocking the practices of the parish.” But if that had been the charge, they could simply have asked us to be more respectful. No, the crimes we were accused of were of a much grander scale. We were treated like traitors or Jacobin insurrectionists.

And that’s the funny thing about our “trial.” The people at ICKSP seemed to have confused us with someone else. Or maybe with some phantom from the past. In John Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles, the spirits of the decapitated royalty of late-eighteenth-century France roam the halls of their bygone abode brooding over the injustices suffered at the hands of the revolutionaries. The leaders of ICKSP have never let go of their own grievances against the modernists. The monarchy must rise again if only within the half-block compound at Gravois and Ohio Streets in St. Louis.

Sullivan, echoing Burke, says I need to forgive and move on. But the way I see it, this is not so much about my need to forgive ICKSP as it is about their need to forgive me, and to let go of the imagined offenses I represent. The Old Regime has passed. Maybe someday they will come to peace with this change.

Which brings me to the issues of clerical dress. I confess that I am not as versed in high liturgical fashion as Ragen obviously is. I am willing to accept that Burke’s favorite cape is not ermine but (as subsequent checking shows) watered silk. As for the regal dressing ritual defended by Sullivan, I would concede that there was a time in church history when this may have struck the right chord. But today, the European royalty are no longer an appropriate model for the sort of kingship Christ represents to most people, and spending ten minutes draping the bishop in layers of lace comes across as simply bizarre.

Finally, I thought that while the new St. Louis cathedral was being built, the massive church of St. Francis de Sales was used as a temporary cathedral for a few years. But maybe this is an urban legend. In any case, I do thank ICKSP for saving this magnificent historic structure. Still, as this episode shows, being faithful to history has its limits. There is more to Christianity than preservation.

Published in the August 11, 2017 issue: 
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