It’s the second time Francis has demoted Burke from a key role at the Vatican; last year he removed him from the Congregation for Bishops, which makes recommendations about which priests should begin their climb up the ladder of the Vatican hierarchy by becoming bishops.
While the move had been expected for some time, it was still significant in that Burke has emerged as the most outspoken critic of Francis’ agenda. During the recent family synod he was openly critical of Francis surrogate Cardinal Walter Kasper’s reform proposals for communion for the remarried and afterward suggested that the church under Francis was like a “ship without a rudder.”
The conservative Catholic blog Rorate Caeli called Burke’s pending removal some ten years before the mandatory retirement age of 75 unprecedented and “the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory … a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”
Punishment or not, Burke’s demotion means that one of the leading conservatives in the United States no longer has a platform and is unlikely to be invited to participate in future high-level discussions about church doctrine. Burke is best known for saying that communion should be denied to John Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians during the 2004 elections, a move that many bishops felt debased the sacrament of Holy Communion by turning it into a political weapon. By removing Burke, Francis appears to be signaling a preference for bishops who worry less about politics and more about the pastoral care of their flock.
Conservatives within the church are reacting with horror that Francis should exercise his papal authority to remake the curia more in his image, much as his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict did. (It was Benedict, née Ratzinger, after all, of the smaller and purer church, who appointed Burke to the high court in a clear signal of his preference for doctrinal purity and rigidity.)
Combined with a number of other lower-level curial promotions and demotions—including the firing of a bishop accused of protecting a priest suspected of sexually abusing a child—conservatives are complaining of the de-Ratzingerization of the Vatican (which does sound an awful lot like the fumigation the Vatican obviously requires) and throwing around words like “purge” and making not-so-subtle comparisons to Stalin.
The blowback forced Francis to take the also largely unprecedented step of releasing a Vatican edictcodifying the pope’s authority to fire bishops as he sees fit.
It’s funny how conservatives everywhere suddenly get all un-deferential to formerly revered, and unquestioned, sources of authority as soon as their agenda is out of favor.
‘Religion Dispatches’ blog-site offers us this latest evidence of Pope Francis’ movement towards a greater liberalisation of Roman Catholic policies towards people normally outside of the Church’s pastoral provision. Cardinal Burke, an American conservative, whose appointment to a place on the Doctrinal Commission was made by the previous Pope, Benedict, has finally been relegated to a minor post outside of any Vatican influence on the discussion of Church Doctrine. This paragraph tells the story:
“While the move had been expected for some time, it was still significant in that Burke has emerged as the most outspoken critic of Francis’ agenda. During the recent family synod he was openly critical of Francis’ surrogate Cardinal Walter Kasper’s reform proposals for communion for the remarried; and afterward suggested that the church under Francis was like a “ship without a rudder.”
Ironically, Cardinal Burke, whose ultra-conservative stance on Roman Catholic dogma would normally have been expected to support the initiatives of the reigning Pope; has become noted for his intransigent opposition to Pope Francis’ attempts to modernise the papacy, with a radical openness to re-married divorcees who had been refused the consolation of access to reception of the Eucharist.
This sacking o Cardinal Burke is yet another sign of Pope Francis’ determination to broaden the platform of pastoral initiatives towards people on the fringes of the Church – thus overcoming the prejudice that has prevented the mission of Christ to all people from being pursued in the spirit of Christ in the Gospel.
This latest move will further dismay the leading conservatives in the Vatican – and other parts of the Church where Pope Francis’ palpable openness to the world is being resisted. May God’s Spirit continue to bring relief from prejudice against the marginalised of the world – so that God’s Kingdom might be seen to be coming among us.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand