Cardinal Burke, previously the highest ranking American in the Vatican, was demoted from his position in the Catholic Church’s highest court as prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura to the largely ceremonial role of patron for the Order of the Knights of Malta. Burke has recently emerged as the face of the conservative opposition to the reformation agenda being enacted under Pope Francis. He has given a number of interviews where he was openly critical of the new direction of the church in regards to tolerance of homosexuality and pastoral practices that relate to divorce and remarriage. Cardinal Burke was notified a month ago that he was going to be moving to a new job. This is the second demotion of the Cardinal.
Shortly after Pope Francis took over the papacy, he removed Cardinal Burke from the Congregation of Bishops where Burke had had considerable influence over the appointment of cardinals worldwide. Burke has long been the champion of pro-life and pro-family movements. He has strongly advocated for withholding the Eucharist from supporters, particularly politicians, of abortion or same sex marriage. Burke maintains an unbending interpretation of doctrine and was shocked at suggestions that the Church should re-evaluate the ban on communion for Catholics who had divorced and remarried in civil services. Catholic teachings require Catholics to obtain an annulment or Decree of Invalidity on previous marriages before they are free to marry again. Cardinal Burke was also quite dismayed by a synod (a Synod of Bishops is an advisory body for the pope) document that spoke more positively of homosexuals. He led a group of other conservative Bishops to change the language in the final document to be less supportive.
While Cardinal Burke has loudly decried the assertions that he is criticizing the pope, he has had several less than supportive comments about his leadership. He has likened the the reforms to a lack of direction instead of a change in direction saying that the Church was now like a ship without a rudder.
“I don’t ever put myself in opposition to the successor of St. Peter…If we don’t teach that truth and live it well, we will be lost. We would cease to be the Church.”
Cardinal Burke may not overtly disagree with the pope, but criticisms on papal policies have sparked culture wars within the Catholic Church that Pope Francis was hoping to avoid. He is reportedly disappointed by the demotion, but has agreed to obey the pope’s orders. The Vatican announced the change without comment on Saturday.