You may recall that Cardinal Raymond Burke recently said that gays are so unrelentingly evil that a parent shouldn’t even allow their children to be around gay relatives on holidays. Pope Francis is now removing Burke as the man in charge of church doctrine and putting him into a largely irrelevant and ceremonial position.
In the interview with BuzzFeed News, Burke confirmed publicly for the first time the rumors that he had been told Francis intended to demote him from the church’s chief guardian of canon law to a minor post as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
“I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it,” Burke said, explaining that he hadn’t yet received a formal notice of transfer. “On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we’re given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that’s what’s in the end most important.”
When the pope first took office, his pivot away from an emphasis on questions of sexuality were more a matter of personal tone rather than changes in church policy or personnel. There were rumors that he was trying to oust the man chosen by Pope Benedict to head the church’s office responsible for doctrine, Gerhard Müller, but last winter he instead elevated him from archbishop to cardinal. When word that Burke was on his way out began circulating last month, it signaled that Francis would take major steps to reshape the church. It coincided with the selection of a new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, whom Catholic progressives celebrated for positions like breaking with the American church hierarchy when it withheld its support for President Obama’s health reform law over questions of abortion and contraception.
This is how a pope slowly changes the course of the massive ship that is the Catholic Church, by putting allies into key positions to affect future developments. I think the pope is quite sincere about wanting to make the church less focused on sexuality and abortion and more focused on serving the poor and oppressed, but that is going to take a lot of time and will be a slow and halting process.