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(LifeSiteNews) — In new comments Wednesday about the coronavirus vaccines, Pope Francis engaged in thinly veiled criticism of Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved and orthodox cardinals.

Speaking aboard the papal plane, the pontiff made an apparent reference to Burke, who was recently hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19. Burke was placed on a ventilator at one point, but as of August 28 has been recovering outside the intensive care unit. In his most recent message, Burke thanked people from around the world for praying for him.

“Even in the College of Cardinals, there are some deniers and one of them, poor man, was hospitalized with the virus,” Pope Francis told reporters with a smile. He did not say exactly what it is these cardinals deny. A Vatican News translation originally used the term “deniers,” and then changed it to “anti-vaxxers,” a cached version of their webpage shows.

“But, life is ironic,” the Pope continued. “Yes, I can’t explain it well: some say it’s because of the difference of where the vaccines come from that there has not been sufficient testing and they are afraid.”

“In the Vatican, everyone has been vaccinated except a small group under study to know how to help them,” the pontiff said.

Asked about the divisions between Christians on taking the COVID jabs, the Pope said that the issue is “a bit strange,” arguing that “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines.” Francis suggested that the “diversity of the vaccines” developed against COVID, some of which he described as “a little more than distilled water,” has “created fear” about taking them.

The left-wing media pounced after Burke was hospitalized with COVID-19. Burke had voiced Church teaching that vaccines and medicines ought to be developed without using aborted fetal cells (all coronavirus vaccines available are abortion-tainted; the Church allows Catholics to take abortion-tainted vaccines or medicines if no other options are available and the intent is to preserve life, but also teaches that vaccination itself must be voluntary), criticized the Marxist “Great Reset” agenda, and used the phrase “Wuhan virus” to describe the disease that originated in Wuhan, China.

Burke has been one of the most outspoken prelates in defense of Church teaching on abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and Holy Communion. He was one of four cardinals to submit to Pope Francis the dubia asking if the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is aligned with Catholic morality.

Five years later, Pope Francis has still not responded, and two of the dubia cardinals have since died.

On the same airplane ride Wednesday, Pope Francis said that distributing the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians must be determined in the “pastoral dimension,” without “condemning,” and that he has never denied the Eucharist to anyone. Canon 915 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be given Holy Communion. The Church also teaches that anyone in a state of mortal sin is not to present himself for Holy Communion (canon 916).

It is unclear how Pope Francis would know Cardinal Burke’s vaccination status. As far as LifeSite is aware, Burke has not publicly said whether he would take the vaccine. Many left-wing prelates have taken the vaccine publicly.

When the cardinal was sick, veteran Catholic journalist Phil Lawler wrote,

… instead of expressing sympathy for the cardinal’s plight — much less joining in his appeal for prayers — media reports are highlighting his opposition to the COVID lockdown, and suggesting (inaccurately) that he denied the severity of the disease. There is more than a hint, in many of these reports, that the cardinal is now experiencing a condign punishment for his rejection of popular opinion.

The suggestion that the unvaccinated somehow “deserve” to become sick and die was echoed in a cartoon recently published by the Diocese of Richmond’s newspaper, for which the publication was forced to apologize.

Many people have also been hospitalized or contracted the coronavirus after having been “fully vaccinated” with the experimental injections. Last month The Hill reported that a “fully vaccinated” Florida man died of the virus.

Liturgist and theologian Dr. Peter Kwasniewski told LifeSiteNews that the Pope’s comments on the COVID shots “show him to be profoundly ignorant — or incapable of reasoning — about the issues that are involved,” and that his reference to Cardinal Burke “is dripping with contempt.”

Kwasniewski added that Francis’ apparent jibe against Burke is “not surprising, considering that he has held him in contempt from the moment the still-unanswered Dubia were submitted.”

David McLoone contributed to this report.