Burke’s “Exile” to Malta**: What if Everyone is Wrong? UPDATED

The rumors appear to be true, and it looks like Pope Francis is “demoting” Cardinal Raymond Burke from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura to “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Burke is only 66 years old; the current “cardinal patron”, Paolo Sardi, has just turned 80. That’s kind of interesting.

There’s lots of analysis around, and some odd tweets. Everyone seems to be seeing this as a demotion — some are using the word “exile”, which may be a tad strong.

My first thought, when I heard it ran along the lines of “well, Burke does like the bells and smells and formalities and some of Malta kind of does, too…of course, the island is so small he may have to trim the cappa magna.”

But juvenile jokes aside — and that was a joke — I keep coming back to the fact that Burke is only 66 years old, which is almost youthful for a Cardinal.

And I started thinking about the refugees who make the dangerous trip from Africa to Italy, and for whom Pope Francis has great compassion and concern. Malta is part of the migrant route.

And then I started thinking about how Malta has said it feels overwhelmed by immigrants. Just yesterday, there were reports that as many as 500 people had perished off the coast of Malta.

And then I thought: Burke is only 66 years old — he has a lot of energy left in him, and is very organized — and by all accounts he is a stickler of an obedientiary.

It would not at all surprise me to discover that Pope Francis, seeking to find a way to give assistance to people risking their lives to escape a troubled continent, has deliberately put along their route a youngish churchman with a humanitarian “military order” under his patronage, and a gift for putting things together.

In fact, this seems like exactly the thing Francis would do: align an obedient, faithful Cardinal who enjoys a bit of ceremony from time to time with a well-organized Knighthood able to offer medical and emergency help, and who also rather like getting spiffed up from time to time, and put them to work, together, for the good of the countless numbers of people, and ultimately for the good of the church.

I suppose if one buys into the worldly take on what constitutes a prestigious office, one might say “yes, this is a demotion! From the Curia, the seats of Power, and making episcopal recommendations to the little island of Malta**, and the Knights?”

But the whole world is in the midst of great crisis, and the church — this great centering pole which keeps everything from collapsing and lets in the light — must respond, wherever she can, and do it quickly and authoritatively, because nations are failing, as they do, and people are suffering, and darkness is encroaching, all about.

I think Francis has given Cardinal Burke a great challenge, a great privilege, and a mighty task: to sustain and further build up an organization that serves people-in-need around the world, regardless of race, creed, nationality; to shore up good-and-welfare networks that have become stagnant; to assist immigrants and nations as the world continues its transition into something different from what it has been. And to — why not, if he wants? — wrap all of these efforts in occasional pageants of great beauty and solemn worship, because beauty feeds the heart and soul, and it doesn’t belong to only some, but to all.

As Dorothy Day once told a volunteer who objected to her handing off a donated diamond ring to a homeless woman, “do you think God made diamonds only for the rich?”

This is the kind of roll-up-the-sleeves missional work at which we excel, and that the whole church is called to.

I don’t know. I could be all wet. Likely I am. This is really Rocco Palmo’s territory — he’s the guy who would have the skinny on such a strategy — I am just thinking out loud.

But I do wonder if the hand-wringing over a supposed insult to Burke might be premature. The church (and the world) needs to send its able-bodied churchmen and women out, to serve the world. Burke is as likely a man as anyone, if the Holy Father is looking to address a humanitarian concern that weighs on his heart. In which case, this move is not a demotion, but a boost; a lift toward heaven.

**Yes, yes, thank you, conscientious and helpful commenters, for reminding me that the Knights are in Rome; the seat is in Rome. I’m not the one who started calling Burke an “exile.” But there is work to do in Malta. And Lampedusa. And on every continent. And there are, perhaps, knights to recruit for what will become a very large undertaking. What was that question again? O yeah…”how many divisions does the pope have?”

Micah Murphy,
who admires Burke greatly, writes:

Is there any likelihood this will tone down Cardinal Burke’s traditionalism? His pomp? His love of wearing a cape that puts Superman to shame? Not at all. So if Pope Francis denounces pomp as a sign of pride, why would he, who wills the good of Cardinal Burke, put him into a position to practice pomp on a daily basis in the streets of Rome, where the Order of Malta is headquartered?

Occam’s Razor states that simplest hypothesis, the one that assumes the least, is likely the correct one. In light of Occam’s Razor, which is more likely: 1) that Pope Francis, a faithful Christian who wills the good of Cardinal Burke, has appointed him to a position that will weigh down his soul with sin for no ostensible reason aside from politics, or 2) that Pope Francis, a faithful Christian who wills the good of Cardinal Burke, has appointed him to a position that is suited to Cardinal Burke?

Read the rest and see if you can’t assume a little goodness in the pope’s motives.

Or, be content to be the mirror image of the people who used to refer to Benedict as a Nazi Tank. How we receive a thing is a choice, you know.

Editorial Note:
I closed the combox last night
because I wanted to go to bed and not awaken to 100 comments needing moderation, on a day when I have a great deal to do in preparation for a a ten-day break/retreat. As I’m already behind schedule, comments will remain closed. They will reopen when I return, near October.

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About Elizabeth Scalia