Pope Francis is taking action against one of his highest-ranking American critics. It is the second such radical action taken against a conservative prelate this month.
According to two people briefed on the measures, the Vatican has decided to punish Cardinal Raymond Burke by stripping him of his right to a subsidized apartment and salary.
Pope Francis announced the measure during a meeting of the Vatican heads on Nov. 20. A meeting participant, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said the pope moved to punish Cardinal Burke because he is a source of “disunity” in the church.
The pope said he was removing the cardinal’s privileges of having a subsidized Vatican apartment and salary as a retired cardinal because he was using the privileges against the church, said another person who was subsequently briefed on the pope’s measures. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal the details.
Cardinal Burke, who spends much of his time in the United States at the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine he founded in his native Wisconsin, is the second American prelate to face punishment in what appears to be a new phase of Francis’ pontificate.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 28, Cardinal Burke had not yet been notified of the measures against him, according to his secretary.
In 2014, Cardinal Burke, a canon lawyer, was fired by Pope Francis from his position as the Vatican’s high court justice. He has been openly critical of the Vatican’s progressive views on the LGBTQ community within the church.
The 75-year-old was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. He was later appointed prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s high court. After Pope Francis removed him from that position in 2014, he made Cardinal Burke the cardinal patron of the Knights of Malta, a prestigious but limited role.
But there, too, Cardinal Burke and Francis clashed over the cardinal’s involvement in a governance crisis at the chivalric order. Francis pushed him aside and named two subsequent envoys to essentially replace him.
Twice, Cardinal Burke has joined other conservative cardinals in issuing formal questions to the pontiff, known as “dubia,” asking him to clarify questions of doctrine that upset conservatives and traditionalists.
In the first, they asked Pope Francis to clarify his outreach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and Francis never replied. In the second, they challenged the pope to affirm the church’s teaching on sexuality ahead of the 2023 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.
Dating back to his first papal conference in 2013, Pope Francis has made surprising public statements regarding gay priests, and most recently, in his response to the cardinals, he suggested an openness to gay marriages within the Catholic Church.
On the eve of Francis’ big meeting of bishops last month, Cardinal Burke delivered a stinging rebuke of the pope’s vision of “synodality” as well as his overall reform project for the church.
“It’s unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some has the aim of bringing forward an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine,” Cardinal Burke told the conference titled “The Synodal Babel.”
Cardinal Burke has defended his actions as being of service to the church and the papacy, saying it was his obligation as a cardinal and bishop to uphold church teaching and correct errors.
“The sheep depend on the courage of pastors who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error, and division,” he told the Oct. 3 conference, prompting applause from the crowd.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni did not deny reports of Pope Francis’ actions against Cardinal Burke when asked on Tuesday but referred questions be directed to the cardinal.
“I don’t have anything particular to say about that,” Mr. Bruni told reporters.
This period of reform for the Vatican seems to have accelerated with the arrival in September of Francis’ hand-picked new doctrine czar, Argentine Cardinal Victor Fernández.
In a tweet on Monday night, Bishop Strickland expressed shock at reports that Francis had taken action against his fellow American, which was first reported by the conservative Italian newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, the main sponsor of “The Synodal Babel” conference.