Now, the conservative cleric is invoking the church's highest punishment -- mortal sin -- to persuade the lay and ordained Catholics who distribute Communion at Mass to safeguard the sacrament.
Drawing on the works of the late Italian Jesuit scholar Felice Cappello, Burke says those ministers are "held, under pain of mortal sin, to deny the sacraments to the unworthy."
That argument could place Communion ministers on the frontlines of the "wafer wars" as the 2008 presidential race heats up, and as bishops debate a document on "faithful citizenship."
"It is clear that church discipline places an obligation on the minister of Holy Communion to refuse Holy Communion to persons known, by the public, to be in mortal sin," Burke writes in a new journal article.
Burke lays out his case like a legal brief in Periodica de re Canonica, a journal widely read in seminaries and published by Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, an elite school for Catholic clergy.
"No matter how often a bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the church regarding procured abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports legislation permitting the gravest of injustices, and, at the same time, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, then his teachings ring hollow," Burke writes.
A former top official in the Signatura, the Vatican's high court, and a noted expert in canon law, Burke previously has kicked off public debates over policing the Communion rail. While bishop of La Crosse, Wis., he ordered clergy to refuse to offer the sacrament to certain pro-abortion-rights politicians.
In 2004, Burke and a handful of other bishops said they would refuse Communion to presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Burke also said Catholics who voted for pro-abortion-rights politicians, such as Kerry, should refrain from taking the sacrament until they confessed their "mortal sin."
In his new article, the archbishop explicitly criticizes his fellow bishops, the majority of whom voted in 2004 to leave the Communion decision up to individual bishops.
Burke retorts: "The question regarding the objective state of Catholic politicians who knowingly and willingly hold opinions contrary to natural moral law would hardly seem to change from place to place."
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the influential conservative Catholic journal First Things, called Burke's article "a scholarly tour de force."
"The (archbishop's) concern is not a political concern," Neuhaus said. "The article is about, how does the church preserve the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist?"
Blogger Commentary: That sums it up perfectly.
But the article is ambiguous in some areas, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center in Washington.
Important Blogger Commentary: Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. Woodstock . . . ? Theology . . . ? You are kidding me right.
If Burke is calling on Communion ministers to disobey their bishops and deny Communion to Catholic politicians, it would be "revolutionary" and "encourage anarchy," Reese said.
"Most bishops do not want ministers of Communion playing policeman at the Communion rail," he added. "This is a significant change in focus. Suddenly, you're going to have a few thousand decision makers in parishes across the country."
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said Burke was unavailable to comment on this article.
The Columbus Dispatch : Bishop preaches tough Communion rule
Well done Archbishop Burke!