VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has removed U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, 66, as head of the Vatican’s highest court and named him to a largely ceremonial post with a chivalric religious order.
Cardinal Burke, formerly prefect of the Apostolic Signature, will now serve as cardinal patron of the Knights and Dames of Malta, the Vatican announced Nov. 8.
The move had been widely expected since Italian media reported it in September, and Cardinal Burke himself confirmed it to reporters last month.
It is highly unusual for a pope to remove an official of Cardinal Burke’s stature and age without assigning him comparable responsibilities. According to church law, cardinals in the Vatican must offer to resign at 75, but they often continue in their positions for several more years.
Cardinal Burke, a prominent devotee of the traditional liturgy and outspoken defender of traditional doctrine on controversial moral issues, has appeared increasingly out of step with the current pontificate.
In December 2013, Pope Francis did not reappoint the cardinal to his influential position on the Congregation for Bishops, which advises the pope on episcopal appointments.
Cardinal Burke expressed frustration, in a February 2014 article in the Vatican newspaper, that many Americans thought Pope Francis intended to change Catholic teaching on certain “critical moral issues of our time,” including abortion and same-sex marriage, because of the pope’s stated belief that “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Noting that the pope had “clearly affirmed the church’s moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition,” Cardinal Burke blamed perceptions to the contrary on “false praise” of Pope Francis by “persons whose hearts are hardened against the truth.”
After Pope Francis invited German Cardinal Walter Kasper to address a meeting of the world’s cardinals in February, Cardinal Burke emerged as a leading opponent of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Cardinal Burke has also warned that any efforts to streamline the marriage annulment process — the mandate of a commission the pope established in August — should not undermine the rigor of the process.
During the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family, Cardinal Burke was one of the strongest critics of a midterm report that used remarkably conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions and other non-marital relationships. The day the report was relased, the cardinal told (Read More)