Pope Francis Reappoints Cardinal Raymond Burke to Vatican Supreme Court

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THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

In an unexpected move, Pope Francis has reassigned Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, nearly three years after sacking him as prefect.

Cardinal Burke will no longer head up the court as he did earlier, but the Vatican announced Saturday that the conservative American cardinal will serve on the court along with Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, Archbishop Frans Daneels and Bishop Johannes Willibrordus Maria Hendriks.

The Pope removed Cardinal Burke from his position as prefect of the court in 2014, naming him as patron of the Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial post. Vatican observers noted at the time that it was highly unusual to remove such a high-ranking cardinal without giving him comparable responsibilities elsewhere.

Along the way, Francis also stripped Burke of other Vatican posts, such as membership on the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which guides liturgical policy.

More recently, Burke oversaw the dismissal of an official who embroiled the Knights in a charitable program in Myanmar that included the distribution of condoms, only to see the Pope countermand that decision. The group’s Grand Chancellor, who supported Burke, ended up resigning instead, at the Pope’s behest.

Early this year, the Pope effectively sidelined Burke from that post as well by naming a personal delegate to oversee the Knights. In a letter, Francis said that Archbishop Angelo Becciu would act as his “exclusive spokesman” with the order, making Burke’s role largely superfluous.

Burke has been an outspoken defender of traditional Catholic teaching and was one of the four cardinals who publicly asked the Pope for a clarification on his 2016 teaching letter Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which contains perceived ambiguities regarding the reception of Holy Communion by divorced Catholics who had remarried civilly. The cardinals submitted five questions, or “dubia,” to the Pope, which Francis has opted not to answer.

Burke has since downplayed the alleged rift between himself and the Pope, calling media descriptions of their relationship a “caricature.”

“They depict Pope Francis as a wonderful, open person and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they depict me as just the opposite,” Burke told an Australian journalist. “It’s meant in a certain way to advance their own agenda, but the pope is actually not in favor of their agenda.

“They’re making a caricature of someone who’s asking for clarity about certain matters, they’re saying ‘well, he’s the enemy of the pope’ and he’s trying to build up opposition to the pope, which of course isn’t the case at all,” Burke said.

The cardinal said that this manipulation by the mainstream media is “fundamentally dishonest.”

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