In one of the more explosive shakeups in the recent history of the Catholic Church, the second-most powerful man in the Vatican has been ousted.
American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a darling of conservative Catholics who is virulently anti-gay, has confirmed to BuzzFeed what rumors from Rome have said for weeks. He will be demoted by Pope Francis from the head of the Roman Catholic Church's version of the Supreme Court to a figurehead role as the Patron of the Knights of Malta, a chivalrous order known for its work among the sick.
This is not the first demotion for Burke, who was dropped by Francis almost a year ago from an important Vatican bureau that selects bishops around the world. Burke was replaced on The Congregation for Bishops by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who, while also conservative, does not use the inflammatory rhetoric that has made Burke a favoriteÂ of the far-right in the Catholic Church.
Burke recently told an interviewer that legally-married gay and lesbian family members should be shunned from family celebrations during the upcoming holidays, asking â€œwhat would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?â€
Burke's strong criticism of a preliminary document that included more inclusive welcoming of LGBT community members in the life of the Church and his challenge to Francis, who is seen to have had a hand in the drafting of the document, were apparently the last straw for the Pope.
Francis recently replaced outspoken Chicago Cardinal Francis George with the more conciliatory Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, a major promotion for the 65-year-old native of Omaha, Nebraska. Admittedly, George was two-and-a-half years beyond the age of 75, when bishops and cardinals submit their resignations to the pope. However, some cardinalsÂ have been kept on the job until age 80 when they lose their right to vote in the conclave that selects a new pope after the death or resignation of the reigning pontiff.
These moves are thought by Vatican watchers to be signs that Francis wants to tone down the attacks on communities that are marginalized by the Catholic Church, including LGBT parishioners and divorced and pro-choice Catholics. Burke is a major proponent of the Latin Mass and is known for his fondness of clerical garb that went out of style following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which attempted to modernize the Church in worship and its relationship to Jews and to other Christian faiths. Burke opposes those reforms and his move to Rome from St. Louis, where he served as archbishop, was seen as a sign of favor by the ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI.
Burke's influence on the Congregation for Bishops was seen in the naming of several controversial choices in major positions in the American Catholic Church, including Salvatore Cordileone, the Church's leader in the successful Prop 8 movement that reversed marriage equality in California, from Oakland to San Francisco, an obvious thumb in the eye of the large LGBT community there.
In Chicago, Cupich will take over from George in November. While, for example, Cupich opposes marriage equality, in Spokane he is one of the rare U.S. Church leaders to speak out against attempts â€œto incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.â€ Cupich wrote in a pastoral letter that was read in all Catholic parishes in the diocese, â€œIt is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Churchâ€™s pastors wherever it occurs.â€
The first major appointment of an American Archbishop tipped Francis' hand as to how he wanted a change of tone among the hierarchy in the U.S. He named the affable Bishop Bernard Hebda, who had served as head of the diocese of Gaylord, Michigan for only four years, to be co-adjutor bishop with right of succession to the authoritarian and controversial Newark Archbishop John Myers, in 2016 when Myers turns 75.
How long Francis will have to change the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Church remains to be seen, as the vast majority of current ecclesial office-holders were appointed by conservatives John Paul II and Benedict XVI over a 35-year period. In his initial choices, Francis is veering slightly left in tenor. However, it is doubtfulÂ that any change in doctrine will be put in place during the remaining years of his pontificate.
Image viaÂ Wikimedia
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