Archbishop Raymond Burke spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast May 8 about tough themes. He spoke about keeping Catholic institutions' witness clear and Catholic politicians' faith recognizable. The packed room wasn't just warm — it was positively enthusiastic, responding to him with sustained applause and standing ovations.

Archbishop Burke is in a unique position to speak about the key issues facing the Church today. He is the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, and was archbishop of St. Louis from 2003 until last year.

Register executive editor Tom Hoopes talked to him in Washington, D.C., May 7.

Do you miss the States? Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, did you ever think you would be walking the halls of the Vatican?

I miss very much the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I miss my family, my home Diocese of La Crosse. My great desire was to be a priest in the Diocese of La Crosse. But I'm happy. I'm doing what I'm asked to do. I've found that has always been a source of my happiness.

Fundamental misunderstandings of the Catholic Church seem to be ubiquitous. Not just the author, but even the actors in a story like Angels & Demons seem to take its basic Church vs. science premise as true. What can Catholics do in the face of the onslaught?

To me, the first response is to know the truth about these situations. Tom Hanks alternately claims this is based on historical fact and alternately says it's simply fiction. The fact of the matter is: It's not historically accurate.

It's important for Catholics to know their faith and to know it accurately, not from sources that are reading history from the point of view of a particular agenda. A famous example for me in this time is the Crusades. Even children we met in Catholic schools and so forth were being taught that the Crusades were an evil thing, and they're being given a picture of the Crusades which is simply not true to history and Catholics.

So the biggest thing is that Catholics ought to question these kinds of assertions that don't seem to be correct and to find out the truth about it.

When a school uses its Catholic prominence to honor politicians who write and enact pro-abortion laws, what should the Church do? What can the Church do?

What it should do is have Notre Dame come clean. Is it Catholic or isn't it? A Catholic institution, a Catholic university, cannot give honors to someone who is a promoter of things that are opposed to the most fundamental beliefs of Catholics. So that's what needs to happen.

There's an apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which sets forth the requirements for a university to have the name Catholic. I think that Notre Dame has to either follow those norms or say "We're not a Catholic university anymore."

Ex Corde Ecclesiae drew attention to the canon law requiring theology professors receive a mandatum from the bishop. Should the mandatum status of theologians be public knowledge?

In my judgment it should, yes, and I think that any professor in the faculty of theology or any of the sacred sciences should be proud and honored to say he has the mandatum.

There is a lot of talk about whether or not politicians who keep abortion legal should receive Communion, but aren't there a lot of other reasons to refrain from Communion? Why don't we ever hear about those?

This is a failure of the Church in our time, to the degree that what you say is true. It's a grave failure, because from the time of St. Paul, and for very clear and obvious reasons, one of the most serious considerations of a Catholic about receiving holy Communion is: "Am I disposed to receive it?" That is: "Am I in the state of grace?"

How does canon law distinguish between the communicant asking those questions about himself and the minister of Communion asking those questions about those who approach him?

There are two canons in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 915 and Canon 916, which address this. They are not new legislation. They are part of a long tradition of the Church.

Take the last one first.

Canon 916 speaks about the person's responsibility to his or her own conscience to judge whether or not he or she is disposed to receive holy Communion. If that person is in a state of mortal sin, they should not approach to receive.

The first, Canon 915, talks about the responsibility of the minister of holy Communion. This is such a sacred thing. St. Paul said he who receives the body and blood of Christ unworthily brings upon himself a very severe judgment. This is a sacrilege.

So, Canon 915 puts upon the minister of holy Communion the responsibility to refuse to administer holy Communion to people who are either publicly out of communion with the Catholic Church — in other words, are excommunicated — but also to any person who persists in a grave public sin.

The Church needs to restore this teaching and discipline because it has to do with the greatest gift the Lord has given the Church, namely his body and blood in the most holy Eucharist.

One doesn't hear much about the denial of Communion in history, and, certainly, in the days of slavery and corruption, there were many candidates.

Certainly, historically there are many examples of people who would have been denied holy Communion, and also in positions of leadership. And in those times, many of these people wouldn't have been a question of denying holy Communion but would have been self-conscious enough to know that they shouldn?t approach to receive holy Communion, and they wouldn't have.

In the history of the Church, Communion wasn't received regularly because they had a greater sense of their unworthiness.

Is the Church moving toward more of a worldwide consensus regarding Communion and those who write, enact and support abortion?

As far as the Church's position with regard to abortion and people who are promoters of abortion and the reception of Communion, I don't know if there is contemplated some kind of more official teaching in the matter.

But, in a certain sense, it isn't needed.

A fundamental mark of moral law is to safeguard and protect human life. Abortion is one of the most heinous offenses against that law, because it is the destruction of an innocent life. So there is no question that this is a grave sin.

Once a person has been admonished with regard to promoting procured abortion as a Catholic, that person simply should not approach to receive holy Communion, because it is a public sin, where one is promoting abortion. If, for some reason, the person wouldn't have understood the seriousness of the sin and what the Church's teaching is, when they are admonished, after that has happened, then there is simply no excuse for them to be approaching to receive Communion.

Catholics have been inspired by Pope John Paul II's repetition of "Be not afraid" and Pope Benedict XVI's emphasis on "Christ our hope." But we have been inundated recently with the news of death and scandal striking Catholic leading lights. As bad news mounts, both in the Church and in the world, in public policy and in the economy, a kind of anxiety seems to be overtaking Catholics. How do we keep that at bay?

The temptation to discouragement is understandable enough. These are tough times, and the present administration is moving forward with an agenda hostile to the Church's teachings with a real determination.

But the truth remains that Christ is risen from the dead and is alive in the Church, and the truth remains of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When these tough times come, we just have to roll up our sleeves a little bit more and set our faces like flint and continue giving that strong witness to the gospel of life that is so much needed in our time and be confident that Christ is with us and he'll win the victory.

It's tough right now, but that's no excuse for us to set down the work which has been entrusted to us by Our Lord. Certainly, it was tough during the passion and dying on the cross, but Our Lord loved us "to the end," as St. John says in Chapter 13 of his Gospel. So we have to love to the end. We have to love our country enough and love our fellow citizens enough to keep fighting for the cause of life and family.