Pope Francis has officially demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, a prominent American Cardinal who has been highly critical of the pontiff’s increasingly progressive tone when discussing issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
Burke, who made waves in 2004 for saying that voting for a pro-choice candidate is “a serious sin,” has been an unusually outspoken detractor of Pope Francis since he ascended to the papacy in 2013. When the pontiff declared last year that the Catholic church was too “obsessed” with culture war issues such as abortion, for instance, Burke responded by saying that the church “can never talk enough” about the “massacre of the unborn.” And while Francis answered a question about gay priests by saying “who am I to judge?” last July, Burke told LifeSiteNews in October that homosexual acts are “always and everywhere wrong, evil.”
But on Saturday, the Vatican announced that Burke, who was elevated to Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, has been removed from his influential position as head of the Apostolic Signatura — the Vatican’s highest court — and reassigned to a largely ceremonial role as the Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta.
“The position of Patron of the the Order of Malta is usually given to a retired cardinal, or as a second task to an active cardinal,” Michael Sean Winters, a prominent Catholic journalist, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter. “It has almost no responsibilities. The demotion is unprecedented, and completely warranted: Cardinal Burke’s influence at the Vatican has been crushingly backward looking, and that influence has resulted in some unhappy appointments.”
The demotion has been rumored for several weeks, with Burke himself confirming his expected title change in an interview with Buzzfeed on October 17th. Although the rupture between Burke and Francis has been brewing for some time, the final flashpoint appears to have come during the recent Synod on the Family, which was convened in early October by the pope to discuss “family issues” such as homosexuality. Burke was among the cadre of conservative bishops who were outraged when the synod released a preliminary document that used conciliatory language when speaking about LGBT people, sparking a backlash that culminated in the assembly striking several gay-affirming phrases from the final report. Burke has been especially critical of the pope ever since, arguing that the pope did “a lot of harm” by not clarifying “openly what his position is” on homosexuality during the synod. Burke also blasted Francis in an interview with a Spanish newspaper in November, comparing the pontiff’s leadership of the church to “a ship without a rudder.”
But while Burke’s job change is laden with controversy, it also appears to be the latest in a series of moves by Pope Francis to construct a Catholic hierarchy that is noticeably more diverse and less overtly conservative. When Francis unveiled his first large batch of Cardinal appointees in January, it was largely made up of bishops who hailed from countries outside of the West. And when Cardinal Francis George — a theological conservative who compared organizers of the Chicago Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan — retired as Archbishop of Chicago in September, Francis replaced him with Bishop Blase Cupich, a Catholic moderate who has condemned anti-gay bullying and reportedly asked priests and seminarians not to protest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics by praying in front of them.