ROME — Pope Francis met two American media stars on Thursday, though of vastly different types and levels of celebrity: Actress Angelina Jolie, whose fame speaks for itself, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, a hero to conservative Catholic critics of the maverick pontiff.
Jolie was in town to promote a new film she directed, “Unbroken,” about an American Olympic athlete and prisoner of war during World War II, which she has described as a story of “strength and forgiveness.”
Jolie has also said the experience of making the film has reopened her to the idea of the divine, if not any specific religious faith.
A screening of the movie was staged Thursday morning at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Sciences, an office led by Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, an Argentine and a confidante of Francis.
In a statement, Jolie called the chance to present the film at the Vatican “an honor.”
The pontiff did not attend the screening, which occurred at the same time he was holding meetings with Burke and other senior prelates. Afterward, however, Jolie had the chance to greet the pope briefly.
Burke’s encounter lasted 45 minutes and came as part of a series of morning sessions for the pontiff with several other prelates, including Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris.
The session with Burke stands out, however, given his profile.
The 66-year-old American cardinal emerged as one of the leaders of the conservative camp at last fall’s Synod of Bishops on the family, at one point openly suggesting that Pope Francis owed the world an apology for sowing “confusion” about Catholic teaching on family matters, especially Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
In an interview published three days ago, Burke returned to some of the same themes, complaining that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized” and suggesting that a drop in vocations to the priesthood may be related to widespread use of altar girls.
A Vatican spokesman told Crux on Thursday, however, that the meeting with Francis was “routine” in light of Burke’s new role.
In early November, Francis removed Burke as head of the Vatican’s highest court and appointed him to a largely ceremonial post as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which today functions mostly as a philanthropic foundation.
The move was widely seen as a demotion, though in a recent interview with an Argentine journalist, Francis denied that the move was a punishment for the role Burke played in the synod and said he needed a “smart American” in the new role.
Whenever a cardinal receives a new position, the spokesman said, it’s customary to have an appointment with the pope to talk about it.
Moreover, the spokesman said, the meeting could not have been a response to Burke’s most recent interview, because it’s been on the pope’s calendar for at least the past 10 days.
The Vatican did not disclose any details about what was said in either encounter, but given the personalities involved, it’s a safe bet that Pope Francis had a fairly interesting day.