ROME — The Vatican officially confirmed Saturday that American Cardinal Raymond Burke has been removed as head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s Supreme Court, in order to become the patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta.
The move had been widely expected, and was confirmed by Burke himself in comments to reporters during a recent Synod of Bishops.
The Vatican also announced two other important personnel moves: Burke’s position at the Apostolic Signatura will be taken over by French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, currently the pope’s foreign minister; and Mamberti’s old job, in turn, will be filled by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, currently the papal ambassador in Australia.
The Order of the Knights of Malta is a chivalric organization for distinguished Catholics from around the world whose mission is to assist the elderly, the handicapped, refugees, children, the homeless, and those with terminal illnesses and leprosy.
One claim to fame is its sovereign status under international law, which makes it, and not the Vatican, the world’s smallest state.
Although not unheard of, it’s unusual for a pope to remove an official from a position such as the one held by Burke without assigning him similar responsibilities.
Burke, known for his defense of traditional liturgy and as outspoken defender of doctrine on sexual morality, arose during the recent Synod for Bishops on the family as a champion of the conservative camp.
In recent days, he has given several interviews in which he expressed his concern over the Church’s future.
Talking to Spanish magazine Vida Nueva, he said that many Catholics “feel a bit of seasickness, because it seems to them that the ship of the Church has lost its compass. The cause of this disorientation must be put aside. We have the constant tradition of the Church, the teachings, the liturgy, morals. The catechism does not change.”
Refusing to be labeled as the “leader of the opposition of Pope Francis reform,” Burke then spoke to the Catholic portal Aleteia.
He said that, in his opinion, many are misinterpreting the pope’s emphasis on going to the peripheries as a way of chasing after the culture.
“In other words, that somehow we no longer have confidence in the teaching of the faith and in the life of the Church, and so we go after those very deficient situations in society as if we have nothing to offer, and nothing to say,” he said.
To Burke, the Church has to go out to the periphery with the “integrity of our Catholic faith.” He said that he believes this is what the pontiff is suggesting, “but I’ve seen other people using his [Pope Francis] words to justify a kind of accommodation of the faith to culture which can never be.”
Mamberti, Burke’s successor in the Church’s tribunal, was born in Morocco. Since 2006, he had been the Vatican’s Secretary of Relations with States, in effect the Holy See’s foreign minister.
Fluent in English, French, Italian and Spanish, Gallagher has served as papal representative in five continents. Previous to his position in Australia, he was the papal nuncio in Burundi from 2004-2009 and in Guatemala, until he was transferred to Australia by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
Before being appointed an ambassador, Gallagher served the Vatican diplomatic missions in Tanzania, Uruguay, the Philippines, and the Council of Europe.
No announcement was made Saturday about who will replace Spanish Cardinal Antonio Canizares, former head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Canizares was appointed to the diocese of Valencia in September, and his former position as guardian of the liturgy has been vacant since then.