In a lengthy interview published Sunday with the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Pope Francis for the first time spoke publicly about his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke from the Vatican Curia. In a rare move, the cardinal, relatively young at age 66, was removed from his high-ranking post and not even given a diocese to govern, but made chaplain to the Order of Malta. Some liken the group to the Knights of Columbus but it is actually one of the oldest lay religous orders of Western and Christian civilization, founded around the year 1050 and recognized as Sovereign by the Pope in 1113.
Although Cardinal Burke has in interviews expressed his disappointment about having to leave his post as head of the Vatican’s highest court, the pope suggested in the La Nacion interview that Burke appreciated the appointment to be chaplain of the Order of Malta.
The pope said that he told Burke he was considering him for chaplain of the Order of Malta prior to the October Synod of Bishops. “He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer, I even think he liked it,” related the pope in the interview. “Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there.”
In an October 18 interview with Buzzfeed, Cardinal Burke admitted his disappointment with his impending move. “I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,” he said.
After noting that priests must always be ready to accept whatever assignment they are given, Burke added, “even though I would have liked to have continued to work in the Apostolic Signatura, I’ll give myself to whatever is the new work that I’m assigned to.”
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During his response to the question on Cardinal Burke, the pope gave no indication of the reason for Burke’s dismissal.
“One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed 'donec alitur provideatur,'” the pope recounted. “And I answered 'Give me some time because we are thinking of a legal restructuring of the G9'. I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position.”
The news of Cardinal Burke’s removal from the Vatican Curia was circulating for months and long prior to the Synod. It was also publicly confirmed during the Synod by Cardinal Burke himself. Nevertheless some have wondered if it was Cardinal Burke’s actions during the Synod that caused his dismissal.
Asked that question, the pope said definitively it is “not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”
During the Synod Cardinal Burke was the lead spokesman for maintaining the doctrine of the Church regarding the indissolubility of marriage and the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
While the news of Cardinal Burke’s removal was out, but before it was finalized, Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a public indication that he considered Burke among the Church’s great cardinals.
Thus far nearly 30,000 faithful have signed a petition thanking Cardinal Burke for his Vatican service and pledging to follow in his footsteps of speaking the truth in charity despite the cost. Cardinal Burke will be presented with the petition later this week.