Pope Shakes Up Vatican Panel, Drops Activist Bishop Burke
December 16, 2013

Pope Francis announced his appointments to the influential Council of Bishops today, but two conservative, influential American bishops were missing from the list. Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Justin Rigali, former Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis on Monday named Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., as a member of the Vatican's all-important Congregation for Bishops, essentially ratifying Wuerl as a highly influential figure in terms of shaping bishops' appointments in the United States.
Wuerl was the only new American named to the congregation by Francis, although the pope also confirmed Cardinal William Levada, who stepped down in July 2012 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a member of the body.

Francis likewise confirmed that the Congregation for Bishops will continue to be led by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who's held the position since June 2010.

Notably, Francis did not confirm Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, as a member of the Congregation for Bishops. Generally seen as occupying a prominent place on the church's conservative wing, Burke had been named to the Congregation for Bishops by Benedict XVI in 2009. The pope also did not confirm Cardinal Justin Rigali as a member, who stepped down as the archbishop of Philadelphia in 2011.

Even those who don't follow church politics very closely might remember Cardinal Raymond Burke's pronouncement that Nancy Pelosi must be excluded from receiving communion for her pro-choice stance on abortion issues.

Burke has made no bones of his conservative leanings or his beliefs that bishops should be activists, and was one of those responsible for the investigation of Catholic nuns undertaken by the Vatican last year.

In the interview, the cardinal acknowledged that he was consulted about the LCWR takeover, but he argued that it was "logical" to seek his input given his long experience in the U.S. church. He also reiterated his view that the Vatican had every right to undertake the investigation, even as he stressed that he was not involved in carrying out the actual overhaul.

Burke said his opinion "is certainly heard" on a range of matters at the highest level of the Vatican, even if his views are not always followed. "I don't have any pretenses about being some powerful figure, no," he added. "But it is heard, and respectfully."

It appears it will be less heard now. The National Catholic Reporter had some observations of the two cardinals excluded:

Cardinals Burke and Rigali represent different types of problems. Burke is the consummate culture warrior and he has encouraged the appointment of men to prominent sees who, like himself, look out at the world and see nothing but dread, who have bought into a narrative in which all the Church’s problems and challenges are someone else’s fault, and that the Gospel is best preached from a defensive crouch, with finger wagging at any and all who do not see the world as they do. I cannot think of a single churchmen who is less like Pope Francis, and the difference goes far beyond Cardinal Burke’s penchant for the cappa magna. Those of us who were disappointed by the appointments in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and Denver and, most recently, Hartford, could discern the influence of Cardinal Burke – and behind him Cardinals Harvey and Law – in those appointments.

Cardinal Rigali’s problem is of a different sort. He has ruined everything he ever touched, as one archbishop reportedly said to a friend of mine. He left Philadelphia a mess, a string of Grad Jury reports detailing malfeasance in dealing with clergy sex abuse that rivaled the pro-Dallas Charter days. Rigali left St. Louis a mess – but not before promoting a certain Msgr. Robert Finn into the upper ranks of the St. Louis chancery, setting him on the road to Kansas City-St. Joseph. His removal from the Congregation for Bishops, where he once served as Secretary, also shows Pope Francis’ willingness to rid the curia of the influence of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who was content to look the other way as corruption spread through the curia.

Bill Donohue must be fuming. Too bad the Pope can't do something about him, too.

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