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Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke.

ROME, March 14, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Regardless of the distinct appearance of acrimony between Pope Francis and Cardinal Raymond Burke, the pontiff said in a recent interview that he does not see the American cardinal as his enemy.

At the same time, the pope said Cardinal Burke — regarded as the forefront in resistance to his Church reform — was incapable of handling the seeming disorder within the Knights of Malta, referencing other forces involved.

“The problem with the Knights of Malta,” Pope Francis said, “was that Cardinal Burke could not handle the situation, because he did not act on his own accord [alone] anymore.”

In an interview published last week with German newspaper “Die Zeit,” the pope tried to downplay the significance of his having rendered the cardinal null as patron of the Knights with the appointment of a papal delegate.

And he seemed to feign that allowing Cardinal Burke to retain his title as cardinal patron of the Knights was meaningful, even as his papal delegate is charged with doing the job he said the cardinal was unable to handle.

“I have not taken the title of Patronus from him,” stated Pope Francis. “He is still the Patronus of the Knights of Malta, but it is time to clean up the order a little bit and this is why I have sent a delegate, who disposes of another charism as Burke.”

The Knights of Malta has been swathed in controversy in recent months since its Grand Chancellor was removed for violating his promise of obedience after refusing to resign when his involvement in condom distribution via the Knights’ aid programs was discovered.

Pope Francis intervened, reinstated Albrecht von Boeselager and then asked Grand Master Matthew Festing, the order's top official who had removed von Boeselager, to step down. The move by the pope was abnormal due to the Order of Malta’s status as a sovereign state. 

It was then that Pope Francis appointed his papal delegate to reform the order

It is expected that a new Grand Master for the Knights of Malta will be elected near the end of April at the conclusion of Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu’s visitation as the pope’s special delegate.

The pope’s actions to downgrade Cardinal Burke didn’t start with the Knights of Malta controversy.

Pope Francis removed Cardinal Burke from his position as prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura — the highest court of the Catholic Church — in 2014, less than a year into his pontificate.

Cardinal Burke’s role as patron for the Knights of Malta was regarded as largely ceremonial at the time, and now with the current controversy appears to many as having been intended as a no-win for the cardinal.

Pope Francis had earlier removed Cardinal Burke from an important post in the Congregation for Bishops, where he had influence on bishops' appointments worldwide.

In the Die Zeit interview, Pope Francis also denied that Cardinal Burke’s recent assignment to oversee the canonical trial of the archbishop of Guam was a sort of banishment.

The interview question for Pope Francis was: “The conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, who counts as one of your most fierce adversaries in the Vatican, you have sent to the island of Guam somewhere in the Pacific — some say banished.”

“Cardinal Burke traveled there in a very serious matter,” Pope Francis replied. “I am very grateful to him; there was a grave case of abuse there and he is an excellent jurist. I think that the task is almost done there.”

Kidding in the Der Zeit interview about the posters that were recently put up around Rome critical of his mercy, Pope Francis said this clever use of humor was “great.”

When the interviewer asked the pope if his response to the posters of “basta (enough) already” also goes for Cardinal Burke, Pope Francis responded, “I do not feel that Cardinal Burke is my adversary.”

Pope Francis did, however, find fault once again with “fundamentalist Catholics.”

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Speaking about crises of faith, the pontiff mentioned the Scripture passage where Peter denied Christ three times despite declaring he would not do so.

“When Jesus feels that certainty of Peter,” Pope Francis said, “it makes me think of so many fundamentalist Catholics.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly been critical of “fundamentalist” or “traditionalist” Catholics throughout his pontificate, charged them with “hostile inflexibility,” doing “great harm,” and “rigidity.”