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Quo Vadis, Cardinal Burke?


Last December, news broke that Cardinal Burke had been removed from the Congregation for Bishops. Before the end of the year, I heard from a reliable source that Burke was also expected to be removed from his position with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Though the latter change had not yet materialized, the CDW did just lost its own head, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, with no replacement in sight. That Cardinal Llovera was a supporter of Summorum Pontificum and was, in a highly irregular move, sent back to his home diocese, sent ripples through the liturgically orthodox sectors of the Church. These same people have seen the diminishing influence of Cardinal Burke — one of the few Princes of the Church willing to speak clearly and unequivocally in favor of orthopraxy — as a serious cause for oncern. Burke is so loved by many who hew closest to the Church’s teachings that he is often in the top slot on their fantasy “papabile” list.

It’s been nearly a year since Burke’s last demotion, and for a time, at least, he seemed like he might be out of danger. Which is why it caused such a stir yesterday when Sandro Magister revealed that Burke would soon be removed from his post as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — and from his positions of influence within the curia as a whole. Writes Magister:

The “revolution” of Pope Francis in ecclesiastical governance is not losing its driving thrust. And so, as happens in every self-respecting revolution, the heads continue to roll for churchmen seen as deserving this metaphorical guillotine.


[N]ow an even more eminent decapitation seems to be on the way.

The next victim would in fact be the United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura would not be promoted – as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere – to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous – but ecclesiastically very modest – title of “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.

If confirmed, Burke’s exile would be even more drastic than the one inflicted on Cardinal Piacenza, who, transferred from the important congregation for the clergy to the marginal apostolic penitentiary, nevertheless remained in the leadership of a curial dicastery.

With the shakeup on the way, Burke would instead be completely removed from the curia and employed in a purely honorary position without any influence on the governance of the universal Church.

This would be a move that seems to have no precedent.

In addition to the College of Cardinals, the Signatura, and the Congregations for Bishops and Divine Worships and Sacraments, Burke had been serving on the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and was President of the Commission for Advocates.

If Magister is correct, this means that Burke would be benched from all of these roles in one fell swoop.

It is worth noting that this is a big “if”; Magister provides no corroborating sources, and I’ve seen no additional word from Rome. To my mind, however, a journalist of Magister’s credibility and connections within the Vatican would never risk so putting this story out there if his information weren’t all but irrefutable. (I would not be surprised at all to discover that his source was Cardinal Burke himself.) Burke has been critical of Evangelii Gaudium and remains a symbolic figure of resistance to the innovations and lack of disciplinary enforcement within the 21st-century Church.

So what happens now? It’s hard to say. The official status of this information still falls under the category of rumor. But if that’s all it is, it’s certainly a credible one.

At his blog, Father Ray Blake offers a sobering reflection on the not-yet-news of Burke’s exile-to-be:

Ratzinger might well have appointed his enemies to key positions, so long as they could hold an intellectual position together but things are different now, broken corpses are now on display in the city squares. It is not necessary for the Prince to say anything, or even to know his policies, it is actions that are important and being part of his party. It is not the law but the style of interpreting it that matters. The signs of the times are more important than spoken words, the nuance than what is actually said. The straight bat of Burke was hardly going to survive for long in that environment.

Machiavelli, some clerics bedside reading, calls for examples to made, for occasional acts of cruelty.

What seems to be being said is that the age of dogma and doctrine is dead, everything is pastoral, focus groups replace creeds, there is more concern with how we are conceived by public opinion than any teaching. Contemporary theologians, Kung or Martini are obvious examples, have like those American religious ‘moved beyond’ Jesus, the Church, archaic formulas, archaic documents, statements or examples of dead men. What we are now concerned with is the ‘lived experience’. In the New Pentecost, the age of the Spirit, that has superseded the age of the articulated Incarnate Word, it is the experience of women and men. The pneumatic, blow where it will Spirit is all that matters. Traddies might understand the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ as wild and irrational, ‘do what you like’ but it is far from that. In is about synchreticisn, dialogue, moderation, compromise, ambiguity, recognition of ignorance, the preference for the via negativa, the rejection of the via positiva. Christ and the Apostles might be unambiguous about judgement, heaven and hell, about Him being the only Way, Truth and Life, about the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist, about objective realities but in fact ‘we have moved beyond’ all of that. That is no longer the default position of the Catholic Church.

The fallout from this story, if it is confirmed, could be significant. It would be construed as one of the clearest signals yet of the ideological re-orientation of the curia under the current pontificate. As a new apostolic constitution is being drafted to begin re-shaping the curia, the timing of this “rumor” seems drawn more from the meeting room table than the conspiracy mill.

I suspect we’ll know the truth of the thing sooner rather than later.

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