American Cardinal Critical Of Pope Francis Demoted

Vatican politics is older than American politics, and can be just as entertaining.

Pope Francis

While much of has been made of the “reforms” that have been advocated by Pope Francis since his elevation to the Papacy in 2013, the reality has been far less than what the American and international media has reported. Contrary to the perception you might get from media coverage, for example, the Pope has not made any real chAmeries such as homosexuality, divorce and remarriage by Catholics and the question of whether or not such persons would be permitted to receive Communion, or any of a number of other issues on which some statement or another by the still relatively new Pope have been taken by the media to mean much more than they obviously do to anyone familiar with Church teaching or who, you know, actually reads what the Pope said rather than what the media things he said. Perhaps the best recent example of that came in Francis’s comments about evolution and cosmology which were treated by many in the media as something revolutionary when in reality they were no different from his two most recent predecessors have also said, and indeed no different from what the Church has taught going back decades. For the most part, what the media has reported as if it has been a revolutionary change in doctrine has really been a change in rhetoric, something that has been especially true in connection with what Francis has said regarding how the church treats homosexuals and divorced Catholics. In both cases, while he didn’t call for a change in doctrine per se he does seem to be suggesting that the Church should be less judgmental in its rhetoric and more open to welcoming people into the Catholic community notwithstanding the fact that what the Church teaches is not going to change.

Recently, however, the Pontiff has taken an action that actually does seem as if it could be a significant move against the more conservative elements in Church leadership, and it directly impacted an American Cardinal:

ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday sidelined a powerful American cardinal who has emerged as an unabashed conservative critic of the reform agenda and the leadership style that the Argentine pontiff has brought to the Roman Catholic Church.

In an expected move, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke was officially removed as head of the Vatican’s highest judicial authority, known as the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He was demoted to the ceremonial position of chaplain for the Knights of Malta, a charity group.

The Vatican made no comment in announcing the change, but Cardinal Burke is hardly one of the pope’s favorites. Last December, Francis removed the cardinal from a position that gave him great influence in appointing new American bishops. In return, Cardinal Burke has questioned Francis’ leadership and has been a stern opponent of proposals to allow divorced or remarried Catholics to receive communion.

In a contentious October meeting of church leaders, known as a synod, Cardinal Burke also rejected positive, more welcoming language about gay people in a draft document that was released at the halfway point of the gathering. He and other conservative bishops forced the language to be watered down in the synod’s concluding summary document.

While most of what Francis has said and done to date has, as I’ve said, been more of a change in tone than substance the suggestion of the change itself has led many conservative Catholics like Burke to push back:

Criticism of Francis has come to a head with the publication of the final report of the Synod on the Family. Despite changing absolutely nothing doctrinally, the Synod’s recommendations for a more understanding attitude to those in unconventional family arrangements have ignited a firestorm of controversy among conservative commentators. The possibility that Catholics who had divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment might be readmitted into full communion with the Church has made many apoplectic.

Writing on his diocesan website, Bishop Thomas Tobin accused Francis of being fond of “making a mess” and stated that the Synod voting concept “struck [him] as being rather Protestant.” A funny argument, since Catholic bishops have been voting on key issues since the Council of Nicaea in 325, but that’s beside the point. Tobin seems to be suggesting that with Francis at the helm, the Catholic Church is no longer acting like the Catholic Church.

For over a year conservative Catholics have had their chastity belts in a twist over Francis and apparently, the chafing has finally grown too much to bear.

Over at The New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat, a convert to Roman Catholicism, warned that Francis’s current path could “eventually lead to real schism.” With the threat of schism hanging in the air he then encourages a kind of rebellion: “True Catholics,” he writes, must “resist” the Pope’s pressure to change the Church.

(…)

Conservative Cardinals seem to be getting in on the act. Last weekend Australian Cardinal George Pell unnecessarily reminded his congregants not only that Pope Francis is the 266th Pope, but also that “history has seen 37 false or antipopes.” Antipopes? Does Cardinal Pell intend to hint that Francis isn’t a true Pope? Was Cardinal Pell not there when Francis was elected?

(…)

It’s almost as if the Catholic Church was recently baptized in a vat of irony: so-called traditionalists—the same people who insisted that liberals fall in line behind John Paul II and Benedict XVI—are petulantly calling for schism and for bucking Church hierarchy. What makes it even more absurd: Francis isn’t all that liberal. He cares profoundly and deeply about the poor, but he rarely speaks about supporting women, holds the line on contraception and abortion, and is only selectively pro-environment. In keeping with official Church teaching he believes in the reality of evolution, and in keeping with official Church teaching he believes in the power of exorcism. The Pope is Catholic, go figure.

Traditionalists appear to be buying into the media spin about which they themselves complain. In doing so they are actually bolstering Francis’s lib credentials. Perhaps the hawks should settle down, stop drinking the libertine media Kool-Aid they’ve been protesting about for so long, and act like the pro-hierarchy traditionalists they claim to be.

While I am not a practicing Catholic or even religious at this point in my life, I was raised in the Catholic Church and have enough familiarity with Church Doctrine and recent history to find no small degree of irony in all of this. To some degree, what we’re seeing today is a resumption of the battles that were playing out in the Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council when real changes were made in the Church, not so much in doctrine but in practice (i.e, the end of Mass in Latin in favor of the vernacular language of each nation) as well as a more opening attitude toward other faiths. The resistance to these changes continued long past the Papacy of John XXIII and Paul VI and, in many ways, the conservative forces in the Church saw the elevation of John Paul II to the Papacy as their best hope for a push back against the changes they objected to, this despite the fact that, as a Cardinal, John Paul II had participated in Vatican II quite extensively In the end, it would be the supposedly conservative Pope who would solidly the Vatican II changes, and indeed quite openly punish several groups of priests who attempted to openly rebel against Rome over changes to the Mass and other issues. Even the elevation of Josepth Ratzinger to the Papacy didn’t end up giving the conservative Catholics much in the way of what they were looking for, although there has been some relaxing of the rules regarding the old Latin Mass.

For the most part, though, the conservative resistance to Vatican II turned out to be for naught. Now, they are faced with a Pope, and one that has become quite popular both inside and outside the Church in a very short period of time, who at least seems to be giving the impression that he’s open to more “liberalism” on some issues, as the recently concluded Synod allegedly indicates. More interestingly, they are dealing with a Pope who is willing to push back against his critics, as the demotion of Cardinal Burke would seem to indicate. I am not even going to venture to predict where all of this is headed, largely because much of it depends on forces behind the scenes that are hard to fathom even for the most expert Vatican observer. I tend not to believe that we will see major changes of Church doctrine on issues like divorce and homosexuality, much less on issues like allowing Priests to marry, perhaps in the way that some Priests in the Orthodox Church are permitted to marry with the understanding that they can never be considered for elevation to Bishop if they do, or women Priests, which is a change that I would rule out of the question no matter who the Pope is for a host of reasons, but there are definitely some interesting battles going on inside the Church that could have implications far outside of Catholicism. Much of that will depend on how long Francis is Pope and how well he can maneuver himself around the bureaucracy that seems to outlive every Pope. In the end, though, because they are, in the end, Catholics, I would tend to dismiss whatever talk you hear from conservative Catholics about schism and other forms of rebellion. As there were in they days of John Paul II with groups such as the Society of St, Pius X, there may be some small rebellions here and there but, in the end, the conservatives will remain true to Rome even if the Church moves in directions that make them uncomfortable. And, if they don’t, then, well, the fate of Cardinal Burke stands as a demonstration of just how tough this still relatively new Pope is prepared to be.

FILED UNDER: General, Religion, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    As there were in they days of John Paul II with groups such as the Society of St, Pius X, there may be some small rebellions here and there but, in the end, the conservatives will remain true to Rome even if the Church moves in directions that make them uncomfortable. And, if they don’t, then, well, the fate of Cardinal Burke stands as a demonstration of just how tough this still relatively new Pope is prepared to be.

    Yes, we recall that Pope John Paul removed many liberal cardinals and bishops from positions of power, and was highly critical of and intolerant of liberal theologians. So if Pope Francis want to exercise power at the expense of conservative church officials I have no problem with that.

    What’s interesting to me is how surprised many are that a “liberal” pope is exercising his considerable power and authority – it’s as if people are accustomed to conservatives exercising power, but not liberals.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    As one of the guys in the pointy hats and velvet gowns who ignored and/or concealed pedophilia in the church…being demoted is too good for him.
    Off with his head.

  3. Paul Hooson says:

    Unfortunately my Jewish ancestors in Russia, Prussia and the Mideast felt compelled to convert to the Catholic faith, but I make the best of having my Jewish history background taken from me because of political pressures for Jews to conform. – But, I attended Catholic schools for many years, and take much solace that the Jesuit order that this pope comes from was founded by Jews. He’s a very good man, an above average pope, a realist and a reformer. Traditional Catholics may not be happy, but reforms are greatly needed to make this church relevant to many in these modern times.

  4. KM says:

    Dude, mess with the boss at your own peril. Doesn’t matter what the workplace is, you challenge management and it might not go well for you. I think it’s kind of funny people are surprised this concept applies to religious institutions as well – like there’s no where to go but up.

  5. Anonne says:

    The Pope is not necessarily open to liberalism in the sense of changing stances on certain tenets, but to mercy for flawed individuals. He doesn’t forget that we are all sinners and none of us are so righteous and perfect that there is no room for forgiveness. This is why, doctrinally, nothing has changed but the tone and stance toward people who have certain obvious outward sins has changed. Gathering more flies with honey than vinegar, as the old saying goes. But not in a cynical way; I think he’s the real deal when it comes to really attempting to love thy neighbor.

  6. Pinky says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    the Jesuit order that this pope comes from was founded by Jews

    That’s not really accurate. The order was largely founded by Ignatius of Loyola, with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier. The Church has a tradition that anyone who joins an order during the founder’s lifetime is considered a “co-founder” – that might be what you’re thinking of. I only bring it up because there’s some ugly anti-Semitic conspiracy stuff out there that depict the Jesuits as a Jewish plot.

  7. Grewgills says:

    “True Catholics,” he writes, must “resist” the Pope’s pressure to change the Church.

    The irony in that statement is amazing. It’s not surprising that it came from a convert, the converts are usually the ones most zealous about the rules and preserving the church as it was when they came to it.

  8. Tillman says:

    Perhaps the best recent example of that came in Francis’s comments about evolution and cosmology which were treated by many in the media as something revolutionary when in reality they were no different from his two most recent predecessors have also said, and indeed no different from what the Church has taught going back decades.

    That’s because the media listens to the loudest voices, and the loudest self-labeled Christian voices in this country are idiots.

  9. Paul Hooson says:

    @Pinky: St. Ignatius as well as his successor, Diego Lainez, were both converted Jews, as were a few more intellectual leaders of the early Jesuits, although this organization was later known for it’s persecution of the Jews, as well being persecuted itself. But, I agree a lot of bizarre conspiracy theories exist that are either anti-Jewish or anti-Jesuit in tone.

  10. PJ says:
  11. Rick DeMent says:

    Always follow a fat pope with a skinny Pope.

    I think Frank’s tone is much more “christian” then the conservatives who criticize him. Conservative Catholics and evangelicals are much more focused on temporal punishment and judgement then the gospels of Jesus would demand. Conservative Catholics and evangelicals are far to focused on the denunciation of a handful of sins all the while excusing their own sinful excesses which are much more front and center in the gospels then abortion and homosexuality ever were.

  12. Pinky says:

    @Paul Hooson: I find no mention of St. Ignatius being Jewish. He was “raised in a family culture of high Catholic piety but lax morals” according to one source I found. Several sources agree that he was groomed to be a courtier – unlikely for a Jewish child, I’d think. I find no mention of a name before his baptismal name Inigo.

  13. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “What’s interesting to me is how surprised many are that a “liberal” pope is exercising his considerable power and authority – it’s as if people are accustomed to conservatives exercising power, but not liberals.”

    It’s a standard right-wing line in the USA, at least – ‘liberal’ leaders are never legitimate.

    Doug: “Conservative Cardinals seem to be getting in on the act. Last weekend Australian Cardinal George Pell unnecessarily reminded his congregants not only that Pope Francis is the 266th Pope, but also that “history has seen 37 false or antipopes.” Antipopes? Does Cardinal Pell intend to hint that Francis isn’t a true Pope? Was Cardinal Pell not there when Francis was elected?”

    The Borgias would have known what to do with him 🙂

  14. John425 says:

    Many Catholics (myself included) think the Pope has a somewhat cockeyed view of economics, democracy and social justice because of Argentina’s crony capitalism and inbred power structure. It too much resembles the Democrat structure here in the USA for conservatives to feel comfortable.

  15. Grewgills says:

    @John425:
    Do those Catholics (I’m guessing you have a conservative Catholic community) disrespect the pope like you do? I worked with a lot of liberal Catholics in my time and not one of them disrespected John Paul like you just did Francis. Many of those same people were very disappointed in the nomination of Benedict, but again none were so dismissive of him as you have been of Francis. Why do you think that is?

  16. Grewgills says:

    @John425:
    Do those Catholics (I’m guessing you have a conservative Catholic community) disrespect the pope like you do? I worked with a lot of liberal Catholics in my time and not one of them disrespected John Paul like you just did Francis. Many of those same people were very disappointed in the nomination of Benedict, but again none were so dismissive and disrespectful of him as you have been of Francis. Why do you think that is?

  17. John425 says:

    @Grewgills: Get real! I did not disrespect the Pope. Each and every Pope is/was a product of his national experiences. John Paul II was deeply influenced by the Communist oppression of his native Poland. Benedict XVI was a product of traditional German Catholicism and decried Western secularization. That Argentina would produce someone with a jaundiced view of Capitalism along with the national power structure is a normal outcome.
    Argentina’s economics are not a mirror image of the USA or Europe and several conservative bishops see a cause for concern.
    Paraphrasing Clara Peller: “Where’s the diss?”

  18. Grewgills says:

    @John425:
    You apparently have a cockeyed view of what dismissive and disrespectful mean or a cockeyed view of what cockeyed means.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @John425:

    the Pope has a somewhat cockeyed view of economics, democracy and social justice because of Argentina’s crony capitalism and inbred power structure.

    America has certainly has a well-oiled system of crony capitalism. And “inbred power structure”?

    Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy
    George HW Bush, George W Bush, Jeb Bush
    Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton ….

    We can do “inbred” as well as any non-monarchical country in the world.

  20. John425 says:

    @Grewgills: While you don’t give an example of what my “disrespect” was, I have no alternative but to label your comments as “filler” without any real content or message.

    It is easy for your type to throw around generic charges against those of us with a conservative bent. That passes for a thoughtful response from progressives these days. As they say in Texas-you are all hat and no cattle.

  21. Pinky says:

    @Grewgills: Huh? “Cockeyed” is no worse that “askew” or “off-kilter”. Rodgers and Hammerstein had a number called “Cockeyed Optimist” in South Pacific. John’s comment was thoroughly respectful.

  22. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: I know that typically no good comes from this, but I want to address the down-voters. Am I missing something? I really don’t think “cockeyed” is a slur. Has it picked up some disrespectful connotation I didn’t realize? If the down votes are just sniping, fine. I’m just trying to figure it out.

  23. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    The way cockeyed is typically used today and the way that came across in his comment was absurd or ridiculous. To say the pope’s views on politics, economics, and social justice are absurd or ridiculous because he comes from Argentina are not only dismissive and disrespectful to the pope but to Argentinians. His teaching on social justice is and has been dogma from the beginning of the church.
    John425 and Douthat exemplify the conservative swing many Catholic congregations took in the 80s through the 00s. Francis has made no change in dogma whatsoever. He has advocated a change in focus away from American hot button social issues (gays and abortion to the virtual exclusion of other issues)* in favor of a stronger focus on poverty and social justice. That riles the American conservative Catholics that came into the church or came up in the church from the 80s to the 00s.

    * The near revolt of the women religious was over this same issue. Conservative church hierarchy decided that they were placing too much emphasis on social justice issue for women and not enough on abortion.

    BTW I didn’t down vote you.

  24. John425 says:

    @Grewgills: Grewgills: I think you are confusing “cockeyed” with “cockamamie”.
    Cockeyed means: crooked or askew; not level.
    Cockamamie means: ridiculous; implausible.

    See the difference?

  25. Grewgills says:

    @John425:
    If you think what he has preached on social justice is cockeyed, then you think Catholic teaching on social justice is cockeyed. Not because you have to agree with the Pope, but to disagree with his teaching on poverty you have to disagree with red letter Christianity and quite a few years of Catholic teaching, if not always practice. Trying to argue your politics should be represented by your church is no better than arguing that your religion should be represented by your state.