By Hilary White

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, February 7, 2008 ( – Archbishop Raymond Burke of the St. Louis Archdiocese has expressed his “profound sadness” that a prominent sports coach at St. Louis University publicly expressed his support for abortion and destructive embryo research.

In an interview with the diocesan newspaper, the St. Louis Review, Archbishop Burke said, “At a time when in the Church we need to give such a strong witness to the dignity of human life and the Respect Life Apostolate, this counter witness is being given. I was very sad. Did it upset me? Yes, it did.”

In January, Rick Majerus, the basketball coach at St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution, while voicing his support for Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democrat presidential nomination, also announced his support for legal abortion and embryo research. In response Archbishop Burke said he expected the school to discipline Majerus.

Burke told the St. Louis Review that the problem is one of “scandal”, which in Catholic theological terminology means to “lead other people astray”. He explained that his main concern is to “correct any perception” that it is possible to be at the same time a Catholic and in support of abortion or embryo research.

Speaking from the March for Life in Washington DC, Archbishop Burke said at the time that as a Catholic employee of a Catholic institution, Majerus was not free to “make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic Church.”

Majerus, however, showed no remorse, telling media his “First Amendment right to free speech supersedes anything that the archbishop would order me to do”.

“I’m respectful of the archbishop’s position, but it’s not going to change my mind. We’re given free will and the right to vote for changes. I think religion should be inclusive,” Majerus said.

But Archbishop Burke says Majerus was charged with a “sacred trust” as an employee of a Catholic university. Above all, the Archbishop said, “no Catholic institution could have its representatives espousing such positions. When people take a position at a Catholic institution, there’s a certain sacred trust involved there.”

The issue is not a political matter of freedom of speech, said Burke. “It’s not a question of freedom of speech. Academic freedom is something quite different. It gives you a freedom to make declarations within your particular area of competence, and according to the canons (laws) for investigation of the truth. It doesn’t give you a kind of heightened freedom to make declarations that are contrary to the truth.”

Burke said that as a representative of a Catholic institution, someone who has views opposed to those of the Catholic Church has a duty to remain silent on the issues. “If there is a Catholic who for some reason is struggling with his or her adherence to this, then the correct thing to do is to be silent – certainly not to expound error or to air doubts that you’re trying to resolve in your own mind. But to seek the help of a spiritual director to clarify these things.”

Burke said that a person claiming to be a Catholic and making statements such as those made by Majerus in a public forum, “lead(s) other people astray with regard to what the Church teaches”.

“You can lead astray Catholics, and you also can lead non-Catholics into error about what the Church teaches. And you even can influence them to do things that are gravely wrong. And this is what we call scandal: when you do something which leads other people into error or even into committing a sin.”

“This is a very serious matter when a Catholic publicly espouses a position contrary to the faith.”

St. Louis University has yet to make an official response to Archbishop Burke’s concerns. A spokesman for the university, Jeff Fowler, at the time said only that Majerus’ comments were not related to his role at the university. “Rick’s comments were his own personal view. They were made at an event he did not attend as a university representative.”