Pope Francis Demotes Conservative American Cardinal Who Opposes Church Reform

Patricia Didelot - Author

Jan. 14 2015, Updated 1:03 p.m. ET

Pope Francis has demoted conservative American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke in a move that was not all that unexpected, after the two clashed on several issues, including the Pontiff’s wish to be more inclusive of homosexuals.

Burke — named by Pope Benedict XVI head of the Vatican’s supreme court — fell from grace after being overly vocal and disagreeing with Francis’ attempts to reform the Catholic Church and bring it into the 21st Century. Despite many expecting some action from Pope Francis, the demotion of the highest ranking American Cardinal is highly unusual.

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The Catholic News Service explained why Pope Francis’ decision to demote Cardinal Burke from his powerful position, to the ceremonial post of chaplain of the charity group Knights of Malta, is not something the Vatican does lightly.

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“The move had been widely expected since an Italian journalist reported it in September, and the cardinal himself confirmed it to reporters the following month.”

“It is highly unusual for a pope to remove an official of Cardinal Burke’s stature and age without assigning him comparable responsibilities elsewhere. By church law, cardinals in the Vatican must offer to resign at 75, but often continue in office for several more years. As usual when announcing personnel changes other than retirements for reasons of age, the Vatican did not give a reason for the cardinal’s reassignment.”

“A prominent devotee of the traditional liturgy and outspoken defender of traditional doctrine on controversial moral issues, Cardinal Burke had appeared increasingly out of step with the current pontificate.”

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The decision to demote Cardinal Burke, 66, came on Saturday and was issued without comment from the Vatican’s spokesperson. Recently Burke has given interviews which were highly critical of the reformist Pope and has been vocally outspoken against the changes the Argentinian Holy Father is trying to implement.

Just last month, the demoted conservative Cardinal was the leader of dissent among those who think Pope Francis is going too far with this inclusive policy of homosexuals. At a meeting of Bishops it was clear that the two are at odds on this topic.

Vatican sources say the Pope Francis saw Burke’s outspokenness as part of the so-called “culture wars” among Catholics that he wants to avoid, according to Reuters. Similarly, Cardinal Burke was at odds with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who had argued that the Church should modify teachings that ban divorced Catholics who have remarried in civil services from receiving communion.

Ever since being elected in March of 2013, Pope Francis has become extremely popular with Catholics and non-Catholics alike for his obvious interest in including those that are generally marginalized by the Church. This has gained him the admiration of millions, but has also angered the conservatives such as the recently demoted Cardinal Burke.

[Image via Catholic News, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com]


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