Beliefs David Gibson: Sacred and Profane Institutions Opinion

In Rome, an American rises and another American fades

Cardinal Raymond Burke in his office in the Roman Curia, 2012. Photo by David Gibson
Cardinal Raymond Burke in his office in the Roman Curia, 2012

Cardinal Raymond Burke in his office in the Roman Curia, 2012. Photo by David Gibson

After last month’s annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I wrote a story handicapping the four American churchman who enjoyed growing influence in the new(ish) pontificate of Pope Francis.

They were Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who is one of the eight members of Francis “kitchen cabinet” of advisors on reforming the Roman Curia; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who was elected vice-president of the USCCB and is the likely incoming president in three years; Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, whose advice the Vatican has tapped and who was rumored for an important curial post; and Cardinal Raymond Burke, head the Vatican’s canonical court system and more importantly a member of the Congregation for Bishops. That latter role gave Burke a decisive voice in pushing through a number of key stateside appointments, sometimes against the wishes of U.S.-based bishops.

Burke was something of an outlier on that list — a very conservative holdover from the Benedict XVI era and a fan of the kind of high liturgical finery that Pope Francis does not take to, at all.

Today the calculus of the “Top Four” list changed, perhaps decisively, as Francis dropped Burke from the Congregation for Bishops and added Wuerl. The two cardinals are not known to be allies, to say the least. It’s even less likely now that they’ll be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

Wuerl will remain as Archbishop of Washington but the new appointment means he will make regular trips to the Vatican to vet candidates for bishop in the U.S. and around the world — perhaps the most important way that Francis can secure his legacy.

Those looking for more pastorally-inclined bishops will likely take heart in Wuerl’s advance and Burke’s retreat. But Francis also dropped from the Congregation two other cardinals, both Italians, considered allies of Benedict XVI — Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, 69, described by one Vatican-watcher as “one of the former pope’s most conservative appointments in the Roman Curia,” and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 70.

Just as important: also apparently no longer on the Congregation is former Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, a longtime Vatican insider and leader of the Old Guard who continued to exert influence in the appointment of bishops long after he left Philadelphia under something of a cloud because of the abuse scandals.

In addition to Wuerl, Francis added Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, a Brazilian who already works in the Curia, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the pope’s new Secretary of State, and Archbishops Beniamino Stella and Lorenzo Baldisseri. The latter is organizing next fall’s synod of bishops. All are seen as more in the mold of Pope Francis.

It remains to be seen how and whether this affects the type of episcopal appointments.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • This is not Christian charity at all. It brings embarrassment to someone who puts a religious order’s initials after his name.

  • He will, unfortunately, also have time to come back to this country and appear on Fox and EWTN stirring thing up. He is a real conservative hack and a true bummer.

  • I think more is being made of this than should be. Cardinal Burke is, last I checked, still Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. His title was never, “Cardinal Burke, member of the Congregation for Bishops,” and that position was always secondary to his other responsibilities.

    While it is likely somewhat significant that he was not reconfirmed to the Congregation for Bishops, it in no way means that he is being “set aside” or disgraced. He is still (at least for now) the top canon lawyer in the Church.

  • Replacing Burke with Wuerl is like going from Ted Cruz to John Boehner. From nutty extreme to button down Chamber of Commerce conservative.

    An improvement for those seeking more pastoral bishops but any bishops in the model of Wuerl will be those with good pastoral sense with the 25% of the population who are white collar college educated laypersons. As for working class or non-college layfolks, Wuerl barely knows they exist.

  • Not disgraced. But while Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura gets you better placed at a dinner party or in a procession, for those concerned with the pastoral care of souls, it doesn’t impact that as much as membership in the Congregation of Bishops.

    I’m no fan of Burke. He ill-served Blacks, Polish-Americans, the disabled and the faithful in general while at St. Louis (although very kind to the transgendered). I thought it was wise moving him out of the pastoral responsibility for the Church in St. Louis to the Signatura. I think he is now in the appropriate place for him to provide some service to the Church.

  • Cardinal Burke is still loved in Saint Louis by those who still have the Faith. Those who follow the Prince of this world, however, still despise him. And yeah, the latter include many inside the church. Wheat and weeds being what they are. And we know how that ends.

  • What an absolutely vile thing to say about a devout servant of Christ! May God forgive you for your slander and dismissiveness of this holy man. In the end, you will be held accountable for your loose lips.

  • Burke and Rigali news is good decision… Wuerl bad decision.. Especially when it comes to the child sex abuse issue..

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director…

  • I remember watching Burke at a St. Louis press conference ignorantly endorsing racism. It was really shameful.

  • Greg Reynolds is still excommunicated. Is that the work of the Spirit too? How about His Holiness not changing sexual teachings of the Church one iota (because he can’t, by the way)? Work of the Spirit? No women cardinals. Work of the Spirit? Oullett still in charge. Work of the Spirit? Burke still running the highest court. Work of the Spirit?

    Funny how you pick and choose too. W. Reed. “Wild Reed” Blayly?

  • So, I thought we were “beyond race” with Barry as president?

    Is it all about race with you? Ever think beyond that tiny box?

  • Liberals…… charity:

    Are you kidding or what? Seriously, do you think there might just be a contrast in styles between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke? A pope know for his plain style of simplicity vs a cardinal who donned a vestment of what was it…. 30 feet long???

    Or a Cardinal who left an archdiocese fighting decades of abuse, a clergyman sentenced to jail for endangering children via his transferring known abusers to parishes with schools? An archdiocese several hundred million in debt…… before any sure to follow law suits!

    OH PLEASE. He and Law birds of a feather hiding out in Rome?

    IT”S SAD when a clergyman convicted and asking for bail during his appeal has to get a sworn affidavit from the Vatican stating they will not give the priest cover!!!!

  • Dale–you clearly are a person of strong feelings. What a shame you can’t express them without heaping demagoguery on others.

  • Please tell me again:

    How many millions did St. Louis shell out for Burkes new apartment?

    Contrast that with the quarters of Pope Francis !!!!

  • So shoot the messenger?

    BUT let’s stick to the facts.

    TWO grand jury reports in Philadelphia. A news conference called to report his eminence located two priests who will be suspended:

    said new conference followed up the next evening by one of those “so called” abusers declaring his innocence, stating he will NOT be a scapegoat and stating for the record there are over thirty known abuser priests STILL serving!

    Another news conference the next evening announcing thirty priests have been suspended!!!

    The a very noted trial (those whose statue of limitations had not expired) costing the archdioceseMILLIONS for defense lawyers? One guilty plea, two found guilty. Numerous other cases and abusers escaped due to expiration of the statue of limitations.

    AND do you REALLY THINK a cardinal needs a new apartment and makes his former diocese shell out millions to remodel it?


  • You REALLY SHOULD READ the grand Jury of Philadelphia …… both of them!

    Talk about pain, lost faith, ruined lives, distrust of the church you and other CLAIM to love!

    Ambulance chasers would have NOTHING to chase, IF bishops had cared for their sheep instead of their EGOS!!

    Ask the good faithful of the many dioceses that are or have been in bankruptcy? Los Angeles for starters!

  • Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Clause …. and he’s bringing REAL Christianity back to the world and to the U.S. Republican heads are exploding all over America. Whatever will they do without the Catholic vote?

  • Goodness, Dale, apparently YOU aren’t beyond the “race” thing. Five years and you still can’t stand “Barry” but you withstood the village idiot for 8 years. Simply amazing.

  • Where did Kurt mention race, Dale? Do you mean “white collar”? Because people of all races hold white collar jobs and college degrees.

  • a truly humble servant:


    not exactly the style of Pope Francis is it?

  • to keep the employment numbers up !!!

    tailors and servants need to work you know


  • Remember, Francis made a point of saying that he’s “no right-winger.” What that warning fully entails, nobody yet knows, (but you’ll take that warning seriously by the time he’s done with you !!).

    Meanwhile, you can see Francis moving the chess pieces around. When they’re in position, he’ll be making his moves. Good luck !

  • Good news for the Parishioners of St. Satnislous Church in St. Louis Missouri.
    Cardinal, then Arch Bishop of St. Louis, Burke should be reassigned to that Parish with a main task of restoring that church to the Roman Catholic fold.
    Have him remove the all Parrishioners excommunication and supression actions placed on them by him over a Land for sale scheme. He did not own the land I think there is a Civil law using the Power of Office to take things he did not own.
    The Pope did the correct thing today removing him from the councel of Bishops.

  • Craig, you have that right. By 2012 any voter who wasn’t brain dead knew who Obama is and likewise his Cabinet heads. But over half the Catholic voters again went for Obama. Notre Dame invited him as commencement speaker.

    The Catholic bishops by and large are fine with all this. Most were raised in Democrat households. They will not speak publicly about public acts of Catholic officeholders.

    Meanwhile attendance at Mass and participation in parish life is on the decline. Many of us know that our money is best used elsewhere, not to mention our time.

    Claiming to be Catholic when a poll is taken is not the same as being Catholic.

  • Right you are, Jim. Perhaps Francis bounced Burke simply because he presents the wrong image in public and not so much because he holds conservative views.
    Francis won’t even wear the red ermine-trimmed mozzetta (cape) or the lacy rochet beneath it, not to mention the red shoes, but Burke struts around in kilometers of red satin. There’s even a picture of Burke wearing one of those galeros with the long chain of tassels, a holdover from the days before Paul VI when cardinals were given these things as part of their investiture. Preach the right words but dress like a fool and you lose lots of credibility.

    Nothing illegal here, but it is an image many conservatives themselves cannot stomach.

  • “I am worried by the Blessed Virgin’s messages to Lucy of Fatima. This persistence of Mary about the dangers which menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide of altering the Faith, in her liturgy, Her theology and Her soul. … I hear all around me innovators who wish to dismantle the Sacred Chapel, destroy  the universal flame of the Church, reject Her ornaments and make Her feel remorse for Her historical past.     

    “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted. She will be tempted to believe that man has become God. In our churches, Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them. Like Mary Magdalene, weeping before the empty tomb, they will ask, “Where have they taken him?”
    -Msgr. Eugene Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII-

    How right he was, eh?

  • Wow! My first visit here…and after reading thru all the comments I won’t be returning. Why? I value my Roman Catholic faith too much to listen to the nastiness on here. This is not a place for one’s faith to be nurtured, that’s for sure! Merry Christmas and may God forgive and bless us all.

  • Obviously the legacy of Cardinal Burke will be debated for decades. But before you laud the “peasants”, make note that many of you and others cheered enablers and indeed promoters of sexual abuse . Those you choose to compare Burke to in St. Louis looked the other way in part thanks to being emboldened by the cheers and adulation of the “peasants”. One of them who actually gave an admitted molester a raise is now a Bishop in another Diocese. He was beloved by the “peasants” , a media superstar, and NOT elevated by Burke. So enjoy your chest beating and stone throwing, gang. But you know damn well where you were when your alleged courage could have come in handy for the Church. I worked for Cardinal Burke for a short time and, while I disagree with some of what he says, I admire him and love him for his honesty. He is more honest than many of the molester enablers chiming in here. The same people challenging Church imperialism now were full co-conspirators in the imperialism that led to the sexual abuse scandal. Cast your stones as you wish. But those of you who held on to the rocks back in the day know exactly who you are.

  • All those “settlements” are monies taken out of the pockets of Catholics in the pews. The money is not taken from the perpetrators; it comes from innocent, law-abiding parishioners.

  • The inclusion of the curialists Archbishops Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State; Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and; Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, as well as that of; Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, is confirmation enough that they will be on the list of new cardinals to be created on February 22. The full list will likely be made known at the General Audience on Wednesday, January 8.

  • Thank you. I too am sorry I have read the above comments. I am working on being compassionate, merciful and recognizing when others comments or behavior is a reflection of my own fears that keep me from being Christ to one another.
    As for the article, in makes sense that Pope Francis gets support from those who support the work of the gospel.

  • I may have read your intentions wrong, but when he was bishop here in the Burgh, he was VERY meticulous and VERY paranoid about priests abusing minors. If there was a rumor of a rumor of a rumor, the priest was pulled.

    Do I think he would be good in the Congregation of Bishops? Probably not, but that’s because of personal reasons, not capability. I can also tell you that from experience Wuerl is no wacky leftist, at least when he was in Pittsburgh, nor was he some wacky rightest.

  • Our Heavenly Mother said that “Her Immaculate Heart would Triumph”; also said that Communism would increase which would make it very difficult to attend Holy Mass & receive the Holy Eucharist. Our beloved Church has more than its share of ups & downs, but we still know what THE END will be. Maybe we should buy up some sackcloth & ashes (literally), pray & subjugate ourselves totally to the Holy Trinity.

  • Dooubledwn ???? Nastiness..I dont think so.. we here in St. Louis have been supressed on the subject of St. Stanislous Church. The church management was approved by Bishop Kendrick in the 1800’s and it took 1 yr to try to sell it under it’s true owners the Polish Parishioners. There is a legal name for his action I think Cardinal Burke is very familure with the turm..Chech Black’s Law Dictionary of “one that uses the Power of his office to try taking treasures from another”.. I also think there is a law of commandments provided by moses that he preaches about but dont think they apply to him…

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  • Wheels do go around “What goes around comes around” Malta just the right place
    of the old imperial guard. As I see it a very small island in the Med with about 350T people packed into a very small place about 120Mc. No duties except
    donuts in the morning and to cut the hair of the disenfranchized and care for the sick and homeless. Maybe Pope Francis will decide to send him Arch Bishop Carlson of STL. They both can discuss St. Stan and pedophile issues.