ROME – Pope Francis on Saturday renewed the membership of American Cardinal Raymond Burke on the Apostolic Signatura, thereby extending his presence at the Vatican’s supreme court, a body Burke led until he was removed from that position by Francis in 2014.
At various points, Francis also has removed or failed to reappoint Burke as a member of the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for Bishops and its Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, responsible for liturgical policy.
Most recently, Burke was effectively sidelined by the pope from a position with the Knights of Malta after helping to engineer the ouster of an official allegedly responsible for involving the organization in a charitable program in Myanmar that included the distribution of condoms, only to see Francis roll back that decision.
Burke is widely perceived as a critic of Francis on certain key points, above all the pontiff’s cautious opening to Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in his document Amoris Laetitia. Burke was among four cardinals, two of whom are now deceased, who submitted a list of questions to Francis, called dubia, seeking to end what they described as “grave confusion.”
Since that time, however, while there’s little indication the disagreement over Amoris has subsided, both Francis and Burke have insisted that impressions of a rupture between the two men are overblown.
In a recent interview with an Australian journalist, for instance, Burke described media depictions of conflict between himself and the pontiff as a “caricature.”
“They depict Pope Francis as a wonderful, open person and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they depict me as just the opposite,” he said. “It’s meant in a certain way to advance their own agenda, but the pope is actually not in favor of their agenda.
“They’re making a caricature of someone who’s asking for clarity about certain matters, they’re saying ‘well, he’s the enemy of the pope’ and he’s trying to build up opposition to the pope, which of course isn’t the case at all,” Burke said.
In recent months, Burke has also been asked to take on some sensitive Vatican assignments, including being sent to Guam to act as a judge in a case against a former archbishop accused of sexual abuse. While that wasn’t a papal appointment, and it’s not even clear Francis knew about it in advance, the pontiff did nothing to rescind it once it became public.
Burke was one of five clerics reappointed to the Signatura on Saturday, with the others being Italian Cardinals Agostino Vallini and Edoardo Menichelli, as well as Belgian Archbishop Frans Daneels and Dutch Bishop Johannes Willibrordus Maria Hendriks.
While Burke’s views on theology, liturgy and politics often have proven controversial over the years, few have ever disputed his abilities as an expert on canon law, meaning the official body of law for the Catholic Church.
Burke holds a doctoral degree in canon law from Rome’s Gregorian University, and was named the first American “Defender of the Bond,” a senior position, at the Apostolic Signatura by St. Pope John Paul II. Later, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI would name Burke to head the Signatura in 2008.