Grapes are being served sour at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome this week, and the man behind the bitterest ones is none other than conservative firebrand Cardinal Raymond Burke.
Critics say there has been more than a hint of score settling in Burke’s pointed criticism of the synod and even Pope Francis this week - with Burke claiming a statement from the pontiff “defending Catholic teaching” is now “long overdue.”
Do you hear that Pope Francis, it’s time you explained yourself.
There aren’t many Church figures who will condescend to “clarify” the pope’s intent for him, but it’s looking like Cardinal Burke simply can’t trust Francis to be pontiff.
After his unceremonious removal as head of the Vatican’s highest court in 2013 Burke was given the much less glamorous assignment as patron of the Order of Malta last month.
That means from being a sort of Chief Justice of the Vatican Supreme Court, Burke’s been sent out to pasture to a ceremonial role that’s more fitting for an 80 year old (he is 66, which is 25 in Vatican years).
And in Vatican terms his demotion is worse than an exile, it’s a decapitation. But like a figure in Greek mythology Burke’s back again this week, Hydra-like, having grown another head on which to wear his abolished galero.
In a series of interviews given to the press this week Burke was particularly appalled by the olive branch the synod offered to gay Catholics. A preliminary document released on Monday had asked whether “accepting and valuing homosexuals sexual orientation” could ever “align with Catholic doctrine?”
Translated from the Roman Catholic that means is it possible that gay people and gay love could ever be anything other than uniquely horrible? For Burke the answer until the end of time will be: no.
Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29 in the United States said in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Burke has news for them, fully 85% of young self-identified Catholics can take a hike.
In an interview with the Catholic World Report this week Burke worked mightily to dismiss the latest report: “In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called ‘revolutionary’, teaching on marriage and the family…”
Burke’s by-the-book Church doesn’t do peace and reconciliation, it does blame and retribution. He has no time for any of that progressive forward thinking, or indeed for grace.
Meanwhile behind the scenes he and his conservative supporters are reportedly recoiling at what they call the reign of terror being unleashed by Pope Francis, who has proved himself no respecter of tradition or of Burke’s God-given right to a high status curial post for life.
For the pope this week’s synod is an opportunity to address controversial issues in the search of greater understanding; for Burke it’s a just torch lit to set the world on fire.
But in addition to his hardline views, Burke hasn’t done himself any favors through his obvious fetish for ecclesiastical Catholic fashions, outfits from the Middle Ages that critics say make him look like a cross between Chef Boyardee and Red Riding Hood.
Pope Francis knows how dangerously far Rome is now from the life of ordinary Catholics. He knows that men like Burke want to maintain that distance.
It’s quite likely Francis was thinking of Burke in 2013 when he said: “Let us think of the damage done to the People of God by men and women of the church who are careerists, climbers, who 'use' the People, the Church, our brothers and sisters - those they should be serving - as a springboard for their own ends and personal ambitions. These people do the church great harm.”
Giving an interview to every religious outlet that would listen this week, the truth about Burke still emerged. He’s yesterday's man. He may not like that the Vatican’s took its first tentative steps toward the 21 century this week, he may not like the ideas coming out of the synod, but - however provisional Monday’s report turns out to be - it is already the basis of every future discussion.
Meanwhile Burke’s been posted to the curial equivalent of Easter Island - enjoying nightly banquets with prominent people and displaying all the trappings of influence, without having any actual influence.
And with no question of ministering to the common flock. He has always talked over everyones head, rather than to them - why should this week be any different?