1) Sandro Magister, who has emerged as the most authoritative and reliable of Vaticanists in the reign of Pope Francis, reports in his column for today, September 17, that Raymond Cardinal Burke is about to be removed from the position of Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and from the Roman Curia altogether. His new position, it is said, will be that of "Cardinal Patron" of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a symbolic position usually reserved either for retiring Prelates, or as a merely extra position for this or that Curial head. A symbolic position devoid of the governing responsibilities that come from being the Prefect of a Curial Congregation or Tribunal, or of a Pontifical Council, or of a major Archdiocese. It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment (for what?).
If this rumor is confirmed (which seems quite possible, considering Magister's excellent sources), it is obvious that this very gentle Cardinal will accept it humbly and silently -- but, make no mistake, it will the palpable symbol of the hatred (yes, unfortunately that is the precise word) for the person of Cardinal Burke and especially for all that he represents, that is, a life of complete and absolute fidelity to the Authority, Tradition, and Magisterium of the Apostolic See.
VATICAN CITY, September 17, 2014 – The “revolution” of Pope Francis in ecclesiastical governance is not losing its driving thrust. And so, as happens in every self-respecting revolution, the heads continue to roll for churchmen seen as deserving this metaphorical guillotine.
In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most “Ratzingerian” of the Roman curia.
Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta, secretary of the congregation for the clergy, destined to leave Rome for an Iberian diocese not of the first rank.
But now an even more eminent decapitation seems to be on the way.
The next victim would in fact be the United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.
If confirmed, Burke’s exile would be even more drastic than the one inflicted on Cardinal Piacenza, who, transferred from the important congregation for the clergy to the marginal apostolic penitentiary, nevertheless remained in the leadership of a curial dicastery.
With the shakeup on the way, Burke would instead be completely removed from the curia and employed in a purely honorary position without any influence on the governance of the universal Church.
This would be a move that seems to have no precedent.
In the past, in fact, the title of “cardinalis patronus” of the knights of Malta, in existence since 1961, like the previous one of Grand Prior of Rome, has always been assigned to the highest ranking cardinals as an extra position in addition to the main one.
This is what was done with cardinals Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro (appointed Grand Prior in 1896 while remaining secretary of state), Gaetano Bisleti (at the same time prefect of the congregation for Catholic education), Gennaro Granito Pignatelli (cardinal dean and bishop of Albano), Nicola Canali (governor of Vatican City), Paolo Giobbe (leader of the apostolic dataria), Paul-Pierre Philippe (until the age of 75 also prefect of the congregation for the Oriental Churches), Sebastiano Baggio (removed from the congregation for bishops but kept on as governor of Vatican City and camerlengo), Pio Laghi (until the age of 77 also prefect of the congregation for Catholic education).
Two separate cases are those of Cardinal Giacomo Violardo, who succeeded the 89-year-old Giobbe as patron at the age of 71, two months after receiving the scarlet at the end of long service in the curia, and of the outgoing Sardi, appointed pro-patron in 2009 at the age of 75 and made cardinal in 2010 after having been for many years the head of the office that writes pontifical documents.
Above all, Sardi’s retirement would not be a compulsory act, since the age limit of 80 does not apply to positions outside of the curia. And in fact, with the exception of Paulo Giobbe, all of the aforementioned cardinal patrons went on to a better life “durante munere.”
Burke is 66 years old, and therefore still in his ecclesiastical prime. Ordained a priest by Paul VI in 1975, he worked at the apostolic signatura as an ordinary priest with John Paul II, who made him bishop of his native diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1993. It was again pope Karol Wojtyla who in 2003 promoted him as archbishop of the prestigious see, once cardinalate, of St. Louis, Missouri. Benedict XVI called him back to Rome in 2008, and made him a cardinal in 2010.
With a very devout personality, he is also recognized as having the rare virtue of never having struck any deals to obtain ecclesiastical promotions or benefices. [Source, in English]
Should the removal of Cardinal Burke to this largely ceremonial position come to pass, this will bring the number of Curial "ratzingerians" moved to lesser positions, or transferred outside the Curia altogether, to six: Cardinal Canizares Llovera (transferred back to Spain at his own request), Cardinal Piacenza (removed from the Congregation for the Clergy and now the Penitentiary Major of the Apostolic Penitentiary), Archbishop Guido Pozzo (moved from Almoner to His Holiness back to his old post of "Secretary" of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, a position not previously held by bishops), Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca (once the Secretary-General of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, and now the Assistant or Adjunct Secretary -- lower than "Secretary" -- of the Apostolic Signatura), and Archbishop Augustine Di Noia OP (formerly holding the rank of "Vice President" of PCED, and now only the Assistant or Adjunct Secretary of the CDF. He was already previously the Secretary of a Congregation, the CDW.) There is also the impending movement of a seventh "Ratzingerian", Archbishop Celso Morga, back to a Spanish diocese (not necessarily of Archdiocesan rank). Additionally, Cardinal Bagnasco, the Ratzinger-appointed president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, has become a zombie-chairman after Francis' appointment of the new all-powerful Secretary-General, Bishop Nunzio Galantino.
Why not a movement back to an American see? A translation of Cardinal Burke back to any of the present or former "red hat" sees in the United States, not to speak of a see as influential and prestigious as Chicago, will simply not be welcome to many liberal and "moderate" bishops in that country, not least those Cardinals such as Wuerl, O'Malley and Dolan who have found themselves on the opposite side of Burke's strident promotion of Canon 915.
Now, should Magister's prediction come to pass before the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops convenes in October, this will have another dire effect: the removal of Cardinal Burke from the Synod, which he is set to join on the strength of his position as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. A silencing and removal that will be all the more significant because willed by Pope Francis, and so ill-timed (or so well-timed, depending on which side of the Kasperite proposal one stands.)
2) In the context of Brazil's Presidential elections this year, the Brazilian episcopate's increasingly vague and compromised position towards Presidential candidates whose views on human life, family and sexuality are far from the Church's traditional teaching cannot but help but attract attention.
An article published yesterday on the largest Brazilian daily, Folha de São Paulo, lauds the "softer and tolerant rhetoric of Francis, especially regarding homosexuality." Singled out for praise is Raymundo Cardinal Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, President of the CNBB (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) who is described as "aligned with recent statements from the Vatican, that is preaching a 'more respectful and less severe' attitude" to homosexual unions.
On the question of homosexual unions, legalized by the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2011, Cardinal Damasceno Assis is quoted as saying,
"It is a decision by the Supreme [Federal Court, the highest Constitutional Court in Brazil]. Of course, for the Church, it [homosexual union] cannot be equated to marriage, that is different. But, regarding respect for the stable union between these people, there is no doubt that the Church has always [sempre] been trying to do it this way", said Damasceno Assis
Raymundo Cardinal Damasceno Assis of Aparecida happens to be one of the three Presidents appointed by Pope Francis for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
(H/t Fratres in Unum)