Burke was demoted at the weekend from his prominent role as head of the Vatican’s supreme court and transferred to the largely ceremonial position of Chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a charity group that works with the elderly, according to a press bulletin issued on Saturday.
Previously the pope removed Burke from the board of the Vatican department that handles the appointment of bishops, another highly influential post.
The conservative firebrand, a traditionalist known for his devotion to the magisterial Catholic robes of earlier centuries, was Archbishop of St. Louis from 2003 to 2008 and in recent months emerged as Pope Francis’ most prominent critic.
Bedecked in the magnificent garb of the late Middle Ages, Burke, according to critics, is a hardliner who stands in stark opposition to the compassionate style of Pope Francis, whose asceticism is seen in his simplicity of dress and residence.
Burke cast himself in opposition to the pope’s reformist agenda, which he says his fellow conservatives are increasingly alarmed by.
When the pope said earlier this year that the church should not focus exclusively on hot button issues like abortion and same-sex marriage whilst ignoring issues like global poverty and exploitation, the remark angered Burke and the church’s most conservative leaders.
Burke ignored the pope’s message and bluntly told the press “we can never talk enough” against abortion and same-sex marriage. He also questioned the pope’s passionate denunciation of the excesses of capitalism.
But the last straw for the Vatican may have come last month, when Burke led a chorus of conservative outrage after the Synod on the Family in Rome took a fresh look at the ban on Communion for divorced, remarried Catholics and seemed to offer a historic olive branch to gay Catholics.
In discussion with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva Burke compared the Church under Francis to “a ship without a rudder.” Burke added that he was not speaking out against the pope personally, but rather “raising concerns” about the quality of his leadership.
In the US, Burke was a dependable participant in the so-called culture wars, supporting campaigns to deny communion to Catholic pro-choice politicians here.
Now Burke, a Wisconsin native with Tipperary roots, will have ample time to reflect on the wisdom of openly contradicting the leader of the world’s Catholics.